The hardscrabble folks of Troublesome Creek have to scrap for everything—everything except books, that is. Thanks to Roosevelt’s Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project, Troublesome’s got its very own traveling librarian, Cussy Mary Carter.
Cussy’s not only a book woman, however, she’s also the last of her kind, her skin a shade of blue unlike most anyone else. Not everyone is keen on Cussy’s family or the Library Project, and a Blue is often blamed for any whiff of trouble. If Cussy wants to bring the joy of books to the hill folks, she’s going to have to confront prejudice as old as the Appalachias and suspicion as deep as the holler.
Inspired by the true blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service of the 1930s, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a story of raw courage, fierce strength, and one woman’s belief that books can carry us anywhere — even back home.
I decided to reread The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek before finally getting around to The Book Woman’s Daughter, and I’m so glad I did. I remembered the overall story but forgot all the beautiful (and horrific) details.
For a minute I envied her, wanted to send Junia home, unlace my heavy, tight shoes, and run free with her to escape Frazier, the doc and his medical tests, and everything damning me—to hunt and fish in the woods like I’d done as a child. To be wilded. Have a wilded heart in this black-treed land full of wilded creatures. There were notches in these hills where a stranger wouldn’t tread, dared not venture—the needle-eyed coves and skinny blinds behind rocks, the strangling parts of the blackened-green hills—but Angeline and hillfolk here were wilded and not afraid. And I longed to lift bare feet onto ancient paths and be wilded once again.
Richardson can write a seriously good story. Cussy’s journey from unmarried to wife to widow to wife and from blue to white to blue, all while working as a packhorse librarian, is riveting. Though the pace is a little slow, it allows you to really sit in the details. Often these details are terrifying, or symptoms of atrocious cruelty, but there are moments of beauty and kindness that show the spectrum of humanity in this rural community.
Being able to return to the books was a sanctuary for my heart. And a joy bolted free, lessening my own grievances, forgiving spent youth and dying dreams lost to a hard life, the hard land, and to folks’ hard thoughts and partialities.
I’m very much looking forward to The Book Woman’s Daughter and appreciated this opportunity to revisit The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek.
My [ORGINAL] Review:
August 11, 2020
A few days ago, I read The Giver of Stars and absolutely loved it. When I reviewed it, I saw all these plagiarism rumours in the other reviews about how The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek was published five months earlier and had essentially the same plot. I had never heard of TBWoTC and thought there was no way it could be better than TGoS. I started reading TBWoTC almost immediately after I finished TGoS (late at night after writing my review) and barely made it through the first few pages, so I scoffed at the reviews that said this was a better story – what could be better than TGoS? I had never heard of the Pack Horse Library Project before, and the story was told so beautifully and satisfyingly. As it turns out, though, I was so very wrong.
Where TGoS was pleasant and easy to read, this was dark and haunting. TGoS was like an easy summer read to pass the time where TBWoTC grips you and holds you and won’t let you go to bed even though you have to get up for work in four hours… I couldn’t stop – I had to know what was going to happen next.
There is so much hurt, longing, and despair in this book, the emotions are palpable. Our past and prejudices aren’t sugarcoated or glossed over, and I could not predict what would happen next; the things you think will return to cause problems never do, and when you finally think things will get better, they get even worse. And then when they do get better, it’s only to lull you into a false sense of security right before they get worse again, and again, and again. It’s so honest and genuine – a reflection on how even the light has shadows and nothing is perfect.
I have absolutely nothing against TGoS: it is an entirely different kind of story for such a similar plot. I would recommend both books, but if you’re only going to read one – make it this one. The Giver of Stars is enjoyable, but The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is meaningful.