Book: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
Date Read: December 17 to 20, 2020
Rating: 5 (of 5) stars
I picked up this book as a new addition to my states collection a few years ago, when a friend and I took a trip down to Louisville for a few days. While we spent most of the trip enjoying beverages and tacos on patios, we did a fair share of neighborhood exploring as well. Carmichael’s Bookstore was only a couple miles from where we were staying, so we set out to patio hop our way to and from the store one afternoon. I was unsure of what book I might choose to represent Kentucky in my collection, but Carmichael’s made it easy: this book set in Kentucky and by a Kentucky-based author was a new publication, as well as being on the staff recommendations list.
This unique historical fiction is a book for people who love books. It combines two aspects of history that I previously knew little about: the Depression era Kentucky Pack Horse Library Service and the historic blue-skinned people of Kentucky. The latter, actually, I had not heard of before seeing this book. The book follows Cussy Mary, a packhorse librarian and the last in the line of a blue-skinned family. She loves reading, and is passionate about her job of sharing books with the hill people of Kentucky. She travels a weekly route exchanging books for her patrons. She connects to each of them through a mutual appreciation of the books, always keeping an eye out for new materials to suit each of them from the library’s extremely limited catalogue.
Initially, I thought that blue-skinned was an exaggeration—perhaps referring to people who were abnormally pale or sickly appearing. However, as I was reading it became clear very quickly that it truly meant blue. I did some mini-research, which led me to the real family that Cussy Mary’s was based on. The “Blue Fugates” lived in Kentucky from the early 1800s until as recently as the 1970s. I do not want to give too much away, but will say that it is a fascinating example of recessive genetic traits. The book does delve into the details of this eventually, as Cussy Mary works with a local doctor who is intrigued by her condition.
This turned out to be much more than I was expecting, with an ending that I did not see coming. Cussy Mary spends most of her life surrounded by tragedy: poverty, hunger, discrimination. Despite being pushed to the fringe of society by her classification as “colored,” she persists in a dedication to her patrons through both her books and her attempts to bring a little ease to their lives. There are a few dramatic turns toward the end of the novel, which are taken in stride, and appear to be heading toward a fairly clean and mostly happy ending for Cussy Mary—but it did not turn out exactly as I had anticipated or hoped. I do not want to say that I was dissatisfied with the ending, as it was quite fitting given the context of the story.
Boris’s Thoughts: “I suppose that book for book people means a book for book cats. 4 paws.”