In 1936, tucked deep into the woods of Troublesome Creek, KY, lives blue-skinned 19-year-old Cussy Carter, the last living female of the rare Blue People ancestry. The lonely young Appalachian woman joins the historical Pack Horse Library Project of Kentucky and becomes a librarian, riding across slippery creek beds and up treacherous mountains on her faithful mule to deliver books and other reading material to the impoverished hill people of Eastern Kentucky.
Along her dangerous route, Cussy, known to the mountain folk as Bluet, confronts those suspicious of her damselfly-blue skin and the government’s new book program. She befriends hardscrabble and complex fellow Kentuckians, and is fiercely determined to bring comfort and joy, instill literacy, and give to those who have nothing, a bookly respite, a fleeting retreat to faraway lands.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a powerful message about how the written word affects people–a story of hope and heartbreak, raw courage and strength splintered with poverty and oppression, and one woman’s chances beyond the darkly hollows. Inspired by the true and historical blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek showcases a bold and unique tale of the Pack horse Librarians in literary novels — a story of fierce strength and one woman’s belief that books can carry us anywhere — even back home.
I’ve been intrigued by the pack horse librarians ever since I heard about them a couple of years ago so I jumped at the chance to read this book. I was immediately drawn into this well-written and well-researched book.
This is the story of Cussy, better known as Bluet, a rare blue-skinned woman living in a severely impoverished area in Kentucky during the 1930s. Bluet gets a job as a pack horse librarian, bringing books to isolated people in the hills. She has a passion for books and loves her time in the mountains, visiting with and sharing books with her patrons, helping them to read and learn, keeping scrapbooks to share knowledge and recipes, connecting people.
Bluet also happens to have a rare genetic affliction which makes her physically blue. Her and her blue relatives don’t fit in anywhere and are shunned by everyone. However, her doctor is progressive and curious and is determined to study her and find out why she is the colour she is.
I loved this novel and got totally caught up in Bluet’s world, feeling anxious for the isolated mountain people and hoping they would find enough food, becoming friends with the dedicated school teacher doing her best to feed her student’s minds and bodies, feeling concern for her overworked father who has to take the risky jobs in the coal mines, and getting caught up in Bluet’s passion and dedication to her job and her absolute love of books and learning and sharing that with those she meets.
This is an inspiring novel, tackling a difficult time in history, when women didn’t often hold jobs, racism was rampant, and poverty was everywhere. The book tells people’s stories in a way that I couldn’t put down, that tore at my heart strings, but at the same time was optimistic. Richardson tread the delicate balance between heartbreaking and moving and a difficult past in a beautifully told story.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a review copy of this book.