My beloved book club chose to read Kim Michele Richardson’s fabulous novel, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. It’s historical fiction that is very well researched about the Pack Horse Library Project in Kentucky that was funded by the WPA during the Great Depression. The main character is “book lady” Cussy Mary, nicknamed Bluet. She is named after Cussy, the French village in Normandy where her family originates. Her nickname Bluet comes from the small delicate flowers by the same name, which are often blue in tint. Cussy Mary is also blue in tint. She is one of the “blue people” from Troublesome Creek, Kentucky who suffer from an inherited genetic disorder called methemoglobinemia. This is a rare genetic blood disorder that causes elevated levels of methemoglobin which is a bluish/brown color and causes a depletion of oxygen in the red blood cells. There can be many side effects of this disorder, one of which is blue skin. Years ago it was associated with inbreeding in the Appalachian Mountains. The blue people in Kentucky endured the same prejudice that African-Americans endured. In the eyes of rural white Kentuckians, they were all “colored.” This is the story of the bigotry that Cussy Mary suffers while being part of the Pack Horse Library Project delivering books to the hills and hollars of eastern Kentucky.
You will love Cussy Mary. She is everything you want in a main character. She is independent, strong, brave, compassionate, determined and believable. She has a heart for her fellow Kentuckians regardless of how well or how little they think of her. She knows what these hill people endure in their daily lives. They are mostly coal miners, like her father, struggling against coal company policies which suck the life out of their workers. She knows the grinding poverty and near starvation these families suffer, the grief these mothers suffer as they bury malnourished children. Some of the passages are heartbreaking. The author portrays her characters with such empathy and compassion because her own story includes struggles and heartbreaks. Richardson grew up in the orphanage/foster system in rural Kentucky until she found herself homeless at the age of 14. Her heart for the rural people and her understanding of the social ills of Appalachia makes this story rise above the mere words on the page.
I could write a book about this book- all the interesting historical aspects, but I won’t. I will just say- go get the book and read it.