This historical novel (320 pages) was published in May of 2019 by Sourcebooks Landmark. The book takes you to 1930s Kentucky. Melissa read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
This is a fairly simple story. Our heroine Cussy Mary is a librarian in a mountainous community in eastern Kentucky. But there are the two things that set her apart: One, she’s a horseback librarian. And two, she’s blue. The color, not the mood. Although she is also sometimes also melancholy.
This fiction is based on true history.
In 1820, a French orphan named Martin Fugate moved to Kentucky to claim a land grant on the banks of Troublesome Creek. He married a local girl named Elizabeth Smith, and they got down to the business of making a family. When all was said and done, they had seven children — four of them were blue, thanks to a recessive gene.
And the Pack Horse Library Project? Also real. Between 1935 and 1943, as part of FDR’s New Deal, a team of women known as book women, book ladies, and packsaddle librarians delivered books to their neighbors living in remote areas of the Kentucky mountains.
So, to reiterate: Our heroine Cussy Mary is blue, and she’s a packhorse librarian. She’s ashamed of the former but loves the latter. And she faces two significant challenges: Her Pa is hellbent on marrying her off so she’ll have someone to take care of her — and she’s being stalked by a preacher who harbors a sick fascination with her blue skin.
But she neither needs nor wants a husband or the attentions of the preacher. She’s far too busy with her job — and trying to get through the day without being harassed by the more bigoted members of their community.
The story unfolds through a series of escapades like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn but for grownups. The narrative is rich with details that firmly ground it in place and time. As Cussy Mary tells her story, we learn about the courting customs of the ’30s, the social hierarchy of rural life, medical practices at the time, and the grinding experience of working in the area’s coal mines.
Our heroine is fierce and kind, brave and frightened. Throughout her many trials, she never lets go of the idea that the knowledge and humanity found inside books is the path to our best selves.
I liked my sensibility just fine. I liked my freedom a lot — loved the solitude these last seven months had given me — and I lived for the joy of bringing books and reading materials to the hillfolk who were desperate for my visits, the printed word that brought a hopeful world into their dreary lives and dark hollers. It was necessary. And for the first time in my life, I felt necessary. — Kim Michele Richardson
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