Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: starvation, poverty, discrimination, oppression, racism, medical experimentation, rape, violence, death.
Goodreads Rating: 5 Stars
This book, you guys. Talk about a sucker punch to the gut. Richardson has created a beautiful but emotional novel about Kentucky history that will probably haunt me for a long time.
In the novel, Richardson has created a strong leading lady in Cussy Carter, a packhorse librarian who traveled with her mule Junior through the hollers (yes, hollows, hollers, same thing) of eastern Kentucky, delivering books, magazines, and scrapbooks to the isolated members of the community. Most of the time, these people referred to Cussy as Bluet, referring to her blue skin which was both a curiosity and a fright to others.
At the time, Cussy’s combination of skin color and belief in spreading literacy through the aid of the government left her isolated from most of her community. This made her father, also blue, worry that she’d never be properly married off- however, his efforts on the matter didn’t aid much in her safety or acceptance. Determined to take care of herself, Cussy and the few close friends by her side tried to do what they could to survive the rural mountain life.
Despite their best intentions, they know they live a hard life, and Richardson does a scarily accurate depiction of what life was like then. Segregation, oppression, starvation, coal mining union rallies, medical experimentation… Richardson touches on it all from the view of young Cussy, who wanted nothing more than to make the library patrons happy, to make her father proud, and to live a quiet life with the ones she loved.
I’m not going to lie- this book put me in tears more than once, and when I got done with it and started researching, my emotions stirred in more directions.
After reading Troublesome Creek, I wanted to read more about the Blue People to learn about their genetics, mostly because I find genealogy and medicine really interesting in general. What made me furious is the “information” that is floating on the internet, rife with memes about inbred Kentuckians, blue filters put onto political and non-political memes to poke fun at Kentucky, and the general commentary about the Blue People that makes as if they’re circus entertainment. These people have a recessive genetic blood mutation that causes their blue hue- nothing more. Therefore, nobody should be using them as the butt of any jokes. In the same line, I also felt so much sympathy for them as during that time, as they didn’t know what was causing the hue, therefore they were lead to some really scary medical experimentation in order to find the source and a cure. In Cussy’s case, her and her father were hoping that a cure would make their lives better, because they (and like many others who are targets of prejudice and racism) were constantly afraid for their well-being and lives around those who looked down upon them or even hated them because of their skin.
The other thing I wanted to mention was that this book gets really heavy into the poverty and illiteracy of eastern Kentucky. The 2017 census showed that Kentucky has one of the highest poverty percentages in the US, with 16% to almost 18% of residents being below the poverty line. This is due to remote living, lack of access to education, and many other economic factors. That means that in the 80-plus years between that census and the time period of Richardson’s book, there are still people who struggle to afford basic human needs such as food, clean water, clothing, and shelter in the state. How is that for a reality check? The isolation, the fear of the government, the lack of education- not much of it has changed.
In the end, the biggest thing I want to say is that Richardson’s The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is so much more than a book about a young girl spreading the love of books- it’s an encapsulation of Kentucky history that’s all too near the present. Do yourselves a favor and give it a read, because Cussy’s story deserves to be heard.
TL/DR: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson is a historical fiction novel about a young woman who worked as a packhorse librarian to the remote parts of eastern Kentucky in 1936, and who was of the rare Blue People.
Read it? Absolutely. If you’d rather listen to the audiobook, I highly recommend it too, although the southern accent is a little fake for my liking. But once you get into the narration, you won’t care.
Recommend it? Yes, goodness yes. It’s surprisingly heavy though, so I’d recommend with caution.
Buy it? YES. Honestly, I heard one stellar recommendation after another for this one, so I bought it immediately for my collection.
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