The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
by Kim Michele Richardson
I was interested in reading this book because the backdrop is the Depression-era attempt to bring books to people in the back woods of Kentucky, a program I’d not been aware of before. Apparently, Eleanor Roosevelt was the driving force behind the Kentucky Pack Horse program. Big city libraries donated excess books and shipped them to Kentucky. Local women were hired, all unmarried, to distribute books to the hill people. Because of the lack of roads, the book women rode horses or mules with panniers filled with books over difficult mountain trails. (They were the first mobile librarians!) What a fascinating piece of little known women’s history. (There was another novel about this published last year called Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes. I wasn’t able to check that one out due to a very long reserve list.) The list wasn’t as long on this book, and I was able to borrow the ebook from the local library.
Richardson combines the book woman history with the story of the Blue People of Kentucky, something else I knew nothing about. Apparently a man named Fugate with blue skin arrived in the area from France in the late 1700’s and married a woman with white skin. Four of their seven children were also blue. Scientists now know that the condition, inherited methemoglobinemia, is caused by a rare gene combination. Apparently Mrs. Fugate carried a recessive gene for the condition. The Blues were considered Colored People and were treated little or no better than African Americans. You can learn more at this YouTube video.
The protagonist is Cussy Mary Carter, a blue woman. In her travels, she faces ignorance and danger from some, but wins others over with her book deliveries. The local doctor wants to study her in hopes of curing her. The preacher wants to drive the devil out of her. And one of her patrons actually thinks she’s pretty. Her journey shows us the best and worst of human nature, but in the end, she’s in a far better place than at the beginning.
I loved this book; I’m so glad I read it. Beautifully written, Richardson’s love and knowledge of Appalachia shines through, as does her love of books. I recommend the book for anyone who loves books and libraries!
As always, click on the link below for more great reviews in Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club!
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I’m hearing about the mobile librarians a lot this year, for some reason. Their time has come to be remembered, I guess. But I have never heard of blue people. What an interesting book this must be!
I would guess that’s because of Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes, who is a very popular author.
I found the book to be fascinating.
What a fascinating history! I adore Eleanor Roosevelt and being a rider for that pack horse program would have been my dream job as a kid. Also interesting about the blue people and appalling how bad people of any color were treated.
One more comment after watching the video: my husband was called a blue baby when he was born with congenital heart disease. After surgery, his blood was better oxygenated and his skin became a healthy pink. So it was a similar explanation with different causes.
Looks like a book to add to my to-be-read list. It has some timely and historical themes that interest me. My grandmother took library books to classrooms in Compton, California, in a wicker basket in the 1930s. I still have her basket. – Margy
p.s. I just downloaded the book for my Kindle, and an added bonus it was free with my Kindle Unlimited account. – Margy
Cool! Hope you enjoy it.
My first library was a mobile library in Philadelphia. This story reminds me of an episode of the Waltons. Very interesting.
That was a good TV show.
That is interesting. I am quite ignorant of much of US history.
We’ve got little libraries popping up everywhere. It’s a wonderful program.
Libraries are wonderful, wherever we find them.
Wow! This sounds fantastic! Growing up, we used to visit the mobile library weekly. Not that it’s quite the same as these women going into the hills of Kentucky with books. I just downloaded for free on my Kindle. Thanks to Margy for the tip. 🙂 Are you also planning to read The Giver of Stars? I wonder if you’ll like it as much. Thank you for reviewing! I’m really looking forward to reading this.
I’m not sure if I’ll read Giver of Stars. I looked at some of the reviews at Amazon, and several readers said they prefer the Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. At any rate, Giver of Stars still has a long wait list at my library, but maybe I’ll add my name and just wait for it. I don’t have KU, so can’t read for free that way.
Hope you like the book, Barrie.