Book Review for “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek” by Kim Michele Richardson.
Goodreads Summary: 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.
Yes, I’m a bit late coming to this party, but now that I’m here, I realize just how much I really needed to read this book. Admittedly, I was offered the ARC for this book, but I turned it down – only because May 2019 was already chocked full of books when I got the offer, but I recall that hesitated and really wanted to use that NetGalley widget, but never did. Instead, I bought a copy, and there were several reasons for this purchase. The first was because this is such a fascinating story. The idea that there were women who traveled the sparsely populated back-roads and mountain paths of rural areas like Kentucky, bringing books to men, women, and children, simply amazed me; I had no idea that this program existed. Another reason is that although I had heard of these blue-skinned people, I’ve never read anything fiction about them, so this was an opportunity to do so. Finally, there was the controversy surrounding this novel and one by the (far more famous author) Jojo Moyes – Giver of Stars.
Let’s get this last bit out of the way first, shall we? After reading this Buzzfeed article, then reading the “look inside” on Amazon for Moyes’ book, and then reading this book, I am convinced that Moyes plagiarized swaths of this book for her own. Why? One reason is that in the Amazon excerpt there’s a scene where her protagonist narrowly avoids an assault. There’s a scene in Richardson’s book that is almost exactly the same – that’s not historical similarities, that’s stealing someone’s creative idea. Remember, Richardson’s book was published well before Moyes’ book. There were other reasons, but that was the last straw – if you read these two books, I’m sure you can connect the dots yourself. I, however, will not read Moyes’ book. Furthermore, her novels never appealed to me before (far too romancy for my taste), and now I won’t read her books on principal! I’m proud that my money went to the indie-published, lesser-known author, and not to the big-name, “best-selling” one with a huge publisher (and apparently some very expensive, powerful lawyers) behind her.
Getting back to this book, I have to say that the thing that impressed me the most was how Richardson imbued the text with such emotion and atmosphere. I swear, every word out of the characters’ mouths had a distinct southern accent in my head, and that’s saying something because I rarely “hear” accents when I read books. Yes, some authors use unconventional spelling and colloquial wording to evoke a certain type of pronunciation, but Richardson didn’t use much of that at all here – in fact, she used almost none, and yet… . That’s why this book felt so honest and real to me, the ambience came so naturally. Plus, as I often do, I could see this story come to life before me, and there were even places where I could smell the trees, and rivers, and foods described – it was just that beautifully written, and with such affection and caring, it simply took my breath away. I was therefore not surprised to read that Richardson is a native Kentuckian, and even lived in the hills for five years researching and writing this book. (And no, you can’t get all of this from the two, short visits, like Moyes claims she spent there.)
The other thing that struck me was the whole issue of Cussy Mary’s blue skin, and how the people in the area reacted to her. It fascinated me that they considered her to be “colored” just like the African-Americans. What also surprised me was how, when Cussy Mary gets the opportunity to take medication to “cure” her blueness, she actually agrees to do so, even after it makes her sick. Of course, the debilitating effects of the treatment is one reason she eventually stops, there’s also a level of self-understanding that comes with this. You see, despite her looking white – even temporarily, everyone knows she’s not, and she becomes even more reviled than before. More importantly, Cussy Mary rejects the medication because she realizes she had been trying to be something she was not, and to deny her heritage, also denied her uniqueness. That, together with other consequences of her color, made this story a truly poignant one (and yes, I did cry). Apparently, prejudice and bigotry are not reserved for just different shades of brown skin; if you’re not totally white as far as they’re concerned, you will become the target of those who think they’re superior to you.
This is such a beautiful book, I regret not having read it earlier, but I’m thrilled that I finally corrected that oversight, and that I now have a print copy on my shelves. I’m also pleased that I’ve done my little bit to support an indie published author. There is absolutely nothing I can fault this book for, so I very warmly, and wholeheartedly recommend this novel to anyone, and I’m giving it a full five out of five stars. (A quick aside regarding the title of this review, which come from the lyrics of the Regina Spektor song “Blue Lips” (YouTube link below) that kept running through my head while reading this novel, and keeps coming back to me whenever I think of this novel.)
Sourcebooks Landmark released “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek” by Kim Michele Richardson in May 2019. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you.