On the cover of The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, a blue swath of paint boldy streaks across the image of a faceless young mountain woman, who carefully holds a string-bound book. In Kim Michele Richardson’s new novel, Cussy Mary Carter is not only one of the Great Depression’s Appalachian Pack Horse Librarians, she is also uniquely blue-skinned.
Kentucky-born Richardson’s snappy language captures Cussy Mary’s yearning to find a place in the world where her color is accepted:
Didn’t have myself an escape until I’d gotten the precious book route. In those old dark-treed pockets, my young patrons would glimpse me riding my packhorse, toting a pannier full of books, and they’d light a smile and call out, “Yonder comes Book Woman...Book Woman’s here!” And I’d forget all about my peculiarity, and why I had it, and what it meant for me.
The blue complexion, a result of a recessive genetic pairing, means that Cussy Mary is treated as “colored” with all its associated prejudice. While on her treacherous mountain route the traveling librarian encounters respect, friendship, and purpose; by contrast, in the more sophisticated town she is shunned from community dances and the possibility of marriage.
Based on the real-life Fugate “Blue People of Kentucky” family, as well as on the early WPA librarians, this historical fiction title offers a unique glimpse into a tiny pocket of the world that contains both beauty and harshness. Anyone who treasures spreading the joy of reading will quickly soak up Cussy Mary’s story. And for book club members looking for a new treat, Richardson provides reading group discussion questions, as well as a brief historical summary and images. We have a whole stack of ‘em on our front table - come by and grab a copy of this exceptional read!