“Blue… the most human color”

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.

Book Woman Troublesom

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.)

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Book Woman Troublesom CASourcebooks 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), or Thriftbooks.com, 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.

 

23 thoughts on ““Blue… the most human color”

  1. Wonderful post Davida. I read both of these books and while there are many similarities, the Moyes book was heavy on the romance. I was not aware of the controversy when I requested the book from Netgalley. I loved Richardson’s book and will definitely read more of her work. I will also boycott Moyes books from now on and definitely will not be supporting the movie.

    Your review is wonderful and very insightful. My heart broke for Cussie Mary. I listened to the audiobook and enjoyed the narration very much. I think I may go back and read it when I have more time as I think I may catch more of the subtleties.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, I also read it and found it absolutely amazing. It was for a book club and they brought up the issue of the Moyes book. I so agree with you, however, that I’d been avoiding her (I also do not care for romancy stuff), but this was another reason to continue my own little boycott. Glad you enjoyed this one so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was very disappointed in JoJo Moyes. I’ve read it is not the first accusation of plagiarism, but have not investigated that. I am very disappointed, also, that her book got the movie deal, but I get it–she penned box office gold with Me Before You so they’ll bite on her work over an unknown. I will not be reading her book. I live very near to the setting of both books and cannot imagine how a British author could spend a week or two in a motel and “capture” the language, emotions, and life of the area, except in stereotypes. I have enjoyed Jojo’s books very much. I’m still reading through her backlist, too. But I’m hoping for another great book from Kim even more now!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This was our pick for our first virtual book club, alas, I didn’t get the chance to read it with everything going on. My mom however did and loved it. I of course must read any book featuring a librarian, so will get to it eventually. These women were super tough though in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am definitely going to read this book. Interesting note re plagiarism. Lucy Maud Montgomery of “Anne of Green Gables” fame wrote a book called “The Blue Castle.” Colleen McCullough was accused of plagiarism of Montgomery’s book in “The Ladies of Missalonghi.” I read both books and there were lengthy passages that were word for word. Needless to say Montgomery’s book was by far the best of the two.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh I love every word of your review! I am absolutely loyal to Richardson and go out of my way to never promote the “other” book! It seems odd to me too that Moyes’ book was out of her normal genre…..Since when does she write Histfic? I feel so bad for Richardson that she was unable to fight this. I won’t read another Moyes book…fortunately she doesn’t write in my preferred genres! I have recommended Book Woman to so many people! I even gave my doctor a copy at Christmas because I know she likes to read and I thought the medical aspect might be interesting. And then she told me that she graduated university from Kentucky and has always had an interest in the history of the state. I’m eager for my yearly visit to hear what she thought of it! I should go back and edit my review to include the controversy because I think I reviewed it before the Moyes book came out. Oh….I’m also boycotting the movie!!!

    Like

  7. Great review, as usual. And I’ve wanted to read the JoJo Moyes book for ages now, but I had no idea there was a controversy surrounding it. I’m going to add this one to my wishlist- thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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