Monday, January 20, 2020
Published May 2019 by Sourcebooks
Source: checked out from my local library
The hardscrabble folks of Troublesome Creek have to scrap for everything—everything except books, that is. Thanks to Roosevelt's Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project, Troublesome's got its very own traveling librarian, Cussy Mary Carter.
Cussy's not only a book woman, however, she's also the last of her kind, her skin a shade of blue unlike most anyone else. Not everyone is keen on Cussy's family or the Library Project, and a Blue is often blamed for any whiff of trouble. If Cussy wants to bring the joy of books to the hill folks, she's going to have to confront prejudice as old as the Appalachias and suspicion as deep as the holler.
Inspired by the true blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service of the 1930s, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a story of raw courage, fierce strength, and one woman's belief that books can carry us anywhere—even back home.
What are the chances that I would read three books about book mobiles in just a couple of months? I don't really know how I ended up doing that but I'm afraid that they all may have suffered some because of being read too closely together. This one particularly did given that it is the second book about the Kentucky pack horse librarians I've read, Jojo Moyes' The Giver of Stars being the first.
Richardson has given this one a turn that one didn't have, a twist that is based on fact; there actually were people in Troublesome Creek, Kentucky who were blue because of a rare, recessive genetic disorder. In the book, the "Blues" are considered even lower than African-Americans and it seems likely that would have been the case. In reality it was not until there had been blue people in this area for almost 200 years before the case was found and a "cure" discovered. Richardson moves that cure up twenty years so that Cussy Mary has a choice to make. Does she take the medicine and put up with the side effects? Will being white make her life better? And is taking the medicine merely a vanity? The Blues were ostracized because they were different but also because no one understood why they were blue. While townsfolk looked down on the blue people because of inbreeding, there wasn't much choice. Cussy Mary faced all of that even as her father pushed for her to marry so that she wouldn't be alone when he was gone.
By choosing to write about the blue people, Richardson has placed her novel right in a place where there are a lot of other things that make for interesting story lines - life in the hills of Kentucky, the mines and the fight to unionize the workers, and the pack horse library project of the WPA. Richardson does a respectable job of tying all of these things together. We spend a lot of time on the routes with Cussy Mary, meeting the people along her route and seeing the reaction of the hill people to her color (versus the city people) and to the idea of putting books into the hands of people who might otherwise not have access to them and the knowledge they bring. All of that time riding along with Cussy Mary seemed to be more than was necessary; Richardson could have cut back here and not lost her story at all. And I could see where the book was going long before it got there, although there was a twist that I did not expect (and which I felt might have been resolved differently in a way that would have tied up all plot points better).
I have to admit that I got a better feel for the terrain than I did in Moyes' book and I actually like Cussy Mary better than I did Moyes' protagonist. I wish this one had been edited a little more tightly and been a little less predictable but I still enjoyed it and would probably recommend it over the Moyes' book.