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.
A politically driven graffiti artist. A transgender Christian convert. A blind girl who loves to dance. A queer daughter of a hijabi union leader. These are some of the young women who live in a Bangalore slum known as Heaven, young women whom readers will come to love in the moving, atmospheric, and deeply inspiring debut, A People’s History of Heaven.
Welcome to Heaven, a thirty-year-old slum hidden between brand-new high-rise apartment buildings and technology incubators in contemporary Bangalore, one of India’s fastest-growing cities. In Heaven, you will come to know a community made up almost entirely of women, mothers and daughters who have been abandoned by their men when no male heir was produced. Living hand-to-mouth and constantly struggling against the city government who wants to bulldoze their homes and build yet more glass high-rises, these women, young and old, gladly support one another, sharing whatever they can.
A People’s History of Heaven centers on five best friends, girls who go to school together, a diverse group who love and accept one another unconditionally, pulling one another through crises and providing emotional, physical, and financial support. Together they wage war on the bulldozers that would bury their homes, and, ultimately, on the city that does not care what happens to them.
This is a story about geography, history, and strength, about love and friendship, about fighting for the people and places we love–even if no one else knows they exist. Elegant, poetic, bursting with color, Mathangi Subramanian’s novel is a moving and celebratory story of girls on the cusp of adulthood who find joy just in the basic act of living.
This book took me by storm and I was immediately pulled into the world of these 5 young women living in a slum in Bangalore called Heaven. This is the story of these 5 girls: what their lives are like, what their home life is like, their expectations and how it’s different for men and boys, what it means to them to get an education, how they take care of each other and their community, what it is not to fit in, friendship, and acceptance.
The book goes back in time to describe how each girl got to where is is, what her challenges are — from being blind, transgender, gay, having fathers who leave — and what she dreams for herself as the bulldozers in the current day hover over their homes threatening to plow them over. It is also the story of their mothers and even grandmothers because all of these stories are intertwined. There are a lot of characters in this book, but I found it wasn’t overly difficult to keep track of them because they each had their own personality fleshed out so well.
This is a richly and wonderfully told story. The words and images that Subramanian conjures up are vivid, startling, and wonderful. There were some sentences that stopped me in my tracks and I had to read them over.
However, the flip side is that the writing was hard for me sometimes because it was so full of sentence fragments. They were not used sparingly for effect, but were used all the time. I imagine that it is simply the author’s style, but I found it halted the flow of the book. If this doesn’t bother you or you can get past it, then I would definitely recommend this book. It is an honest and important portrayal of the women and girls in Heaven.
Thank you to Netgalley and Algonquin Books for a review copy of this book.