We’re Reading The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

by Angela Garrison Zontek

The transportive element of historical fiction is wondrous, no? The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek moves us through time and place to an old mining town in Kentucky, where we see life through the eyes of a woman with skin a brilliant shade of blue. The last of her kind, Cussy Mary Carter is a strong young woman with a sharp mind and a tender heart, but when it comes time to fight, she does so with the fury of a wet cat.

In Kim Michele Richardson’s new work, set in Depression-era Kentucky, she writes of the famous blue-skinned Hill people and the Pack Horse Library Project. Dedicated to her post as the Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, Cussy infuriates her adversaries and inspires those whose lives she has touched with the magic of reading.

Cussy’s father is a coal miner, another blue, and firmly set in his ways and opinions. His intentions are good, but his actions continually place his daughter at the mercy of men who afford women, especially those with skin the color of cobalt, with less respect than cattle. The cost of his ill-fated decisions result in the repeated brutalizing of his young daughter.

Ever resilient, Cussy takes refuge in her job with the Pack Horse Library Project. Though the work is dangerous, she takes great joy in riding alone through the mountains and bringing books to her patrons. She reads to the children and the illiterate, regardless of their prejudice toward her unusual skin, and wins over many loyal friends. 

Along with bobcats, wild dogs, and mudslides—she has a man to fear. The community preacher is vicious, perverse, and fixated on blue-skinned Cussy. Determined to run the blue devils out of his town, the preacher commits terrible acts of violence. Cussy is constantly aware of his looming presence.

The town doctor poses another sort of danger for Cussy. Taking advantage of a terrible situation, the doctor pressures Cussy into submitting to a barrage of medical tests and experiments at a hospital in the city. He wants to document her ailment and take credit for finding a cure. He promises Cussy’s father he will turn his daughter white. 

While her personal life spins in turmoil, Cussy stays true to her patrons and faithfully travels her route. The bonds of friendship grow stronger, and Cussy discovers she is valued. She allows herself to entertain thoughts of a future and begins to consider other possibilities for her life. However, there are many obstacles for her to overcome.

The ending comes abruptly, forcing us to say goodbye to these wonderful characters too soon, and we never quite learn enough about Cussy’s ancestors, but that just leaves the door open for a prequel, right? I’m tossing that book wish in the well with both fingers crossed.

Richardson’s beautiful story is one of perseverance, compassion, and self-acceptance. Through Cussy’s journey, we learn there is no struggle so worthy of our might, as the one that strives to bring joy into the lives of others.

Kim Michele Richardson was born in Kentucky and resides part-time in Western North Carolina. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is her fourth novel. You can follow Kim’s works on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek published on May 7, 2019 by Sourcebooks Landmark.

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