Monday, November 21, 2022

Kim Michele Richardson - The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

The hardscrabble folks of Troublesome Creek have to scrap for everything—everything except books, that is. Thanks to Roosevelt’s Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project, Troublesome’s got its very own traveling librarian, Cussy Mary Carter.
Cussy’s not only a book woman, however, she’s also the last of her kind, her skin a shade of blue unlike most anyone else. Not everyone is keen on Cussy’s family or the Library Project, and a Blue is often blamed for any whiff of trouble. If Cussy wants to bring the joy of books to the hill folks, she’s going to have to confront prejudice as old as the Appalachias and suspicion as deep as the holler.
Inspired by the true blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service of the 1930s, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a story of raw courage, fierce strength, and one woman’s belief that books can carry us anywhere—even back home.

Comment: After having read another book, months ago, featuring the same theme (pack horse librarians in the 1930s Kentucky), I've decided to read another one, by a different author. Kim Michele Richardson also proves her immense research into the subject, adding a lot more content then what the other author had done, including the "blue people", a topic which I had never heard of and that I looked for online. Let it be said, of course, that the other book was a more traditional romance story whereas this one I'd place more on the historical side of an historical romance.

Cussy Mary Carter is a young woman who wanted to be a pack horse librarian, not only because she and her father needed the money, but also because she wants to feel she has value. Life is hard up in the Kentucky mountains and many can't have access to the more basic things, but by taking books and magazines to people, Cussy feels like she is doing something important. The problem, as she sees it, is that she is a "blue", someone whose skin color is blue and not plain white. Cussy suffers a lot from prejudice, as did all the blues before her, but now her father is getting old and he wants to fulfill the promise he did to Cussy's mother as she died, to see their daughter taken care of, meaning, married. When that doesn't go well, Cussy thinks her life will remain as predictable as always, but could it be that there is something else out there for Cussy?

As other readers have said about this book, so do I agree it was well written, it was harsh but realistic and offers a deep love for books and what they can mean for someone. I kind of expected to like the book, because of the theme and because I do like when a story is focused on the main character's journey to acceptance and happiness, especially if these haven't been concepts the person had before. However, I must say I wasn't expecting as much tragedy as it did happen.

I mean, the story isn't one way road to despair, but as Cussy goes on about her days and chores and challenges, she suffers as much as she gains and while one could say this is simply the way of life, we must deal with the bad as much as we deal with the good, I still feel the overall emotion I attach to this novel is sadness and not hope. The plot provides both, and even more, but if the author had decided to ease things up a little to Cussy in certain moments, I think it wouldn't ruin the effect - showing life wasn't easy back then - and the reader could have finished with a slightly more positive vibe.

The author includes at the end of the book several notes on her research, how she thought of the story and the information on the most technical aspects and I liked knowing a bit of that. In regards to life in Kentucky and the way of life of people in the 1930s, as well as the governmental aids I already had some information since it has been used in other books, not only the other one I've read with the subject, but even in other work, including non fiction. Still, I think the author did a great job combining all the information and the fictional parts. Again, I just think it was a pity how the tone was daunting in the majority of the book, making me sad even when something good happened (because I knew it wouldn't last) and if not to Cussy, something tragic would happen to a secondary character... it became dreading to think what else could go wrong, after all it was an area where racism and poverty abounded.

Cussy is a wonderful character, even allowing some inconsistencies in her behavior, and I was definitely rooting for her, especially when something bad happened, for instance her marriage isn't a good one and I wished she would find someone who would love her. She loved reading and knowing things and she felt her job was special, a feeling I think she conveyed throughout the book even during the negative moments, and how not to cheer for a woman in those times who just wanted to be at peace and do something she liked and that she saw as being worthy?

The focus isn't on romance, but there are some clues that Cussy and one of the patrons of the library service might have an understanding. I can't help feeling that, if this had been a stronger element, providing some much needed relief in the sense Cussy deserved something good and impossible to revert, the other things would have been easier to accept or to justify. Despite this, there are two or three scenes regarding the romance I think were tender enough to make them special.

I'd say the really unmistakable element that turned this story into something unique is the presence of the "blue people". I looked for information online but it wasn't that hard to imagine the blue skin color had something to do with a genetic health condition. There are several sources one can check to know more about this, but what matters to the story is that it was one more element to make Cussy feel she didn't belong and that others were mistreating her. I don't think it's any surprise, people don't like what is different from the norm and we are all prejudiced somehow but of course, if we sympathize and identify with Cussy emotionally, it feels even worse to see her go through what she does and how others look at her ans judge her for something she can't control.

I think the author used very interesting and captivating details to reinforce her story and to make it feel stronger, unique and something one would want to see where would go. Her writing style is mostly clean but since she does try at times to emulate the way people talked in the region, some sentences do seem a bit more complicated to understand. Then, as the story approaches the end, it's like she decided to pile up all the layers of tragedy she hadn't used yet and made everything so much more intense. I felt annoyed, to be honest, and the last chapter or epilogue just didn't work for me. Too little too late and unsatisfying.

Overall, this was a certainly engaging read and I learned a lot. But I confess: I wanted the story to also have other details and, instead, the choices were ones I feel were there just to add drama. I'm still thinking if I want to go through it all again in the sequel....
Grade: 7/10

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