This gem of a historical from Richardson (The Sisters of Glass Ferry) features an indomitable heroine navigating a community steeped in racial intolerance. In 1936, 19-year-old Cussy Mary Carter works for the New Deal–funded Pack Horse Library Project, delivering reading material to the rural people of Kentucky. It’s a way of honoring her dead mother, who loved books, and it almost makes her forget the fact that her skin is blue, a family trait that sets her apart from the white community. The personable and dedicated Cussy forges friendships through her job, including with handsome farmer Jackson Lovett, who becomes Cussy’s love interest. Cussy’s ailing coal miner father, Elijah, insists she marry, but the elderly husband he finds for her, Charlie Frazier, dies on their wedding night. Pastor Vester Frazier, a vengeful relative, blames Cussy for Charlie’s death and starts stalking her. The local doctor steps in to help, and Cussy repays Doc by letting him perform medical tests on her to learn the cause of her blue skin. A potential cure for Cussy’s blue skin and a surprise marriage proposal set in motion a final quarrel among the townspeople over segregation laws that threatens Cussy’s chance at happiness. Though the ending is abrupt and some historical information feels clumsily inserted, readers will adore the memorable Cussy and appreciate Richardson’s fine rendering of rural Kentucky life. Agent: Stacy Testa, Writers House. (May)
"Richardson's latest work is a hauntingly atmospheric love letter to the first mobile library in Kentucky and the fierce, brave packhorse librarians who wove their way from shack to shack dispensing literacy, hope, and - just as importantly - a compassionate human connection. Richardson's rendering of stark poverty against the ferocity of the human spirit is irresistible. Add to this the history of the unique and oppressed blue-skinned people of Kentucky, and you've got an un-put-downable work that holds real cultural significance." - Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants
"This is Richardson's finest, as beautiful and honest as it is fierce and heart-wrenching, THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK explores the fascinating and unique blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave Packhorse librarians. A timeless and significant tale about poverty, intolerance and how books can bring hope and light to even the darkest pocket of history." - Karen Abbott, New York Times bestselling author of Liar Temptress Soldier Spy
"Emotionally resonant and unforgettable, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a lush love letter to the redemptive power of books. It is by far my favorite KMR book-and I am her huge fan. Cussy Mary is an indomitable and valiant heroine, and through her true-blue eyes, 1930s Kentucky comes to vivid and often harrowing life. Richardson's dialogue is note-perfect; Cussy Mary's voice is still ringing in my head, and the sometimes dark story she tells highlights such gorgeous, glowing grace notes that I was often moved to hopeful tears. " - Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Almost Sisters
"Kim Michele Richardson has written a fascinating novel about people almost forgotten by history: Kentucky's pack-horse librarians and "blue people." The factual information alone would make this book a treasure, but with her impressive storytelling and empathy, Richardson gives us so much more." - Ron Rash, New York Times bestselling author of One Foot in Eden and Serena
"A rare literary adventure that casts librarians as heroes, smart tough women on horseback in rough terrain doing the brave and hard work of getting the right book into the right hands. Richardson has weaved an inspiring tale about the power of literature." - Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh and Queen of the Night
"With a focus on the personal joy and broadened horizons that can result from access to reading material, this well-researched tale serves as a solid history lesson on 1930s Kentucky. A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word." - Kirkus Reviews
One of Kentucky's last living "Blue People" works as a traveling librarian in 1930s Appalachia.
Cussy Mary Carter is a 19-year-old from Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. She was born with a rare genetic condition, and her skin has always been tinged an allover deep blue. Cussy lives with her widowed father, a coal miner who relentlessly attempts to marry her off. Unfortunately, with blue skin and questionable genetics, Cussy is a tough sell. Cussy would rather keep her job as a pack-horse librarian than keep house for a husband anyway. As part of the new governmental program aimed at bringing reading material to isolated rural Kentuckians, Cussy rides a mule over treacherous terrain, delivering books and periodicals to people of limited means. Cussy's patrons refer to her as "Bluet" or "Book Woman," and she delights in bringing them books as well as messages, medicine, and advice. When a local pastor takes a nefarious interest in Cussy, claiming that God has sent him to rid society of her "blue demons," efforts to defend herself leave Cussy at risk of arrest, or worse. The local doctor agrees to protect Cussy in exchange for her submission to medical testing. As Doc finds answers about Cussy's condition, she begins to re-examine what it means to be a Blue and what life after a cure might look like. Although the novel gets off to a slow start, once Cussy begins traveling to the city for medical testing, the stakes get higher, as does the suspense of the story. Cussy's first-person narrative voice is engaging, laced with a thick Kentucky accent and colloquialisms of Depression-era Appalachia. Through the bigotry and discrimination Cussy suffers as a result of her skin color, the author artfully depicts the insidious behavior that can result when a society's members feel threatened by things they don't understand. With a focus on the personal joy and broadened horizons that can result from access to reading material, this well-researched tale serves as a solid history lesson on 1930s Kentucky.
A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.
Richardson (Liar's Bench) takes readers to 1930s Troublesome Creek, KY, where Cussy Mary Carter works as a Kentucky Pack Horse Librarian. Under Roosevelt's WPA (Works Progress Administration), the Pack Horse Librarian initiative put unmarried women to work delivering books to remote locations in an effort to boost both literacy and female employment. Cussy Mary is not only a Pack Horse Librarian, she's a Blue. She's assumed to be the last of her kind—a group of blue-skinned folks regularly shunned, persecuted, and sometimes killed by white locals. Cussy Mary's work to spread literacy through the hills meets with her family's battles against poverty and racial animus, as a doctor sets out to "cure" her of her blue skin. Will turning Cussy Mary into a white woman solve her troubles? VERDICT Based on true stories from different times (the blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the WPA's Pack Horse Librarians), this novel packs a lot of hot topics into one narrative. Perfect for book clubs.—Julie Kane, Washington & Lee Lib., Lexington, VA