Review of The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
Updated: Jul 25
Kim Michele Richardson's historical fiction offers a 1936 Appalachian setting, the magic and unassuming power of a rural librarian, and the exploration of a rare genetic condition. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek was a winning read for me.
Appalachian setting? Check. Tough female protagonist? Check. Rural librarian? Check. Fascinating implications of a rare genetic condition? Check. I'm not sure why it took me so long to read Kim Michele Richardson's The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, except for pre-reading anxiety that it might not live up to my sky-high expectations. But this is a solid historical fiction story that I loved.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is set in 1936 in the rural Appalachians, centering around the character of Cussy Carter, nicknamed Bluet. In this tale, Bluet is one of the rare, real-life "Blue People" of Kentucky (those with the blood disorder methemoglobinemia, which causes the appearance of blue-tinted skin).
Bluet is a librarian through the Pack Horse Library Project of Kentucky (side note: there is nothing about the setup for this book that I don't absolutely adore), and she rides her mule Eugenia through all the hollers and up through the mountains, delivering sought-after newspapers and practical and fanciful books to families who rarely emerge from deep in the woods and for whom the written word is a window to the greater world.
Bluet's natural independence, her love of books and reading, her eschewing of marriage, and her blue-tinged skin collectively draw the wrath and disgust of some in her small community--those who are suspicious of any break from tradition or anyone who questions the status quo.
Bluet faces racial discrimination, misogyny, and some cruel and creepy handling in the name of scientific exploration and understanding of her skin color. This last element is smoothed over by a trade of food for her hungry household (and those of local schoolchildren) by the local doctor and his colleagues, initially so insistent about studying every possible aspect of Bluet's anatomy and blood, and so inappropriate in their methods, that it haunted me for the rest of the book and as I think about the story now.
Richardson offers a satisfying ending that's not without an edge or imperfections, and I found narrator Katie Schorr's reading of the story wonderful.
Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?
The book's sequel is The Book Woman's Daughter, published earlier this year. I can't wait to read that one as well.
Kim Michele Richardson is also the author of Liar's Bench, The Sisters of Glass Ferry, and Godpretty in the Tobacco Field.