In the ruggedness of the beautiful Kentucky mountains, Honey Lovett has always known that the old ways can make a hard life harder. As the daughter of the famed blue-skinned, Troublesome Creek packhorse librarian, Honey and her family have been hiding from the law all her life. But when her mother and father are imprisoned, Honey realizes she must fight to stay free, or risk being sent away for good.
Picking up her mother’s old packhorse library route, Honey begins to deliver books to the remote hollers of Appalachia. Honey is looking to prove that she doesn’t need anyone telling her how to survive, but the route can be treacherous, and some folks aren’t as keen to let a woman pave her own way. If Honey wants to bring the freedom that books provide to the families who need it most, she’s going to have to fight for her place, and along the way, learn that the extraordinary women who run the hills and hollers can make all the difference in the world.
Well, I thought The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek was rough, but it was only a warmup for the wallop dished out by The Book Woman’s Daughter.
"Books’ll learn ya," she said, her ol’ eyes twinkling with mischief and merriment.
I laughed, remembering it was my favorite saying as a child while carrying the children’s books around the yard, riding an old stick pony, pretending to be a Kentucky Pack Horse librarian.
Candlelight flickered; scents of piney woodsmoke cozied the cabin. I dipped my needle in and out of the fabric, laddering tight stitches up the quilt, agonizing over my family being ripped away from me.
After a few moments, I set aside the quilt and picked up the poetry book Miss Foster had given me, losing myself in the pages. Books’ll save you, my troubled heart knew.
We’re not exactly catching up with Cussy and Jackson in a good place, and the horrors they face from the beginning are only a taste of what they continue to suffer while separated from Honey.
I do find it ironic that Doc is so concerned about the medical tests being done on Cussy, considering he did the exact same thing to her. He somehow twisted it into a heroic act when he did it. It made me very happy that Honey stood up to him and told him that his ‘cure’ was no true cure and was neither wanted nor needed.
While Honey is physically safe, she is put through the emotional wringer, and her safety is threatened often. I’m glad that she did have all the people on her route (and on Cussy’s old route) to support her, and that she found a true friend in Pearl. But I’m mostly glad that she stood up for herself and fought for her freedom.
I followed him to the door. "Mr. Morgan, none of it seems fair."
"What’s that, Honey?"
"The laws, sir. The man-made ones about love and marriage. I wanted to ask you when they’ll change the miscegenation laws so folk can love who they want to love. Why do they think it’s wrong for mine or any folk to love another person?" For me to love who I want. I swallowed the words, suddenly thinking about Francis, and any future I might have with a boy snuffed out, then lightly touched my lips. It was still there, fevered and fresh, the same as when he kissed me in the booth.
"Mr. Morgan, they ain’t hating, they’re loving. Don’t seem right the men makin’ the laws are ignorin’ God’s law. Do you think they’ll change it, Mr. Morgan?"
He stared at me thoughtfully and, after a long moment, said, "Though it rarely happens fast enough and not near as quick as it should, Honey, I expect like all ugly laws, change will come."
This is a dark, bloody story filled with hate and cruelty fuelled by ignorance and small-mindedness. It’s a dangerous world, especially for independent women, and we see that most with Honey, Pearl, and Bonnie trying to live in a man’s world, governed by man’s laws that weren’t written to do anything other than trap and limit women.
There was a sober finality in our brief goodbye, and we all felt it. Our future together was about to be erased, the same as in 1936 when the sheriff over in Troublesome erased my papa and mama’s marriage and then the courts banished him from entering Kentucky again for twenty-five years. What was coming loomed bigger, bolder, and the fear seized hold, punching hard at my bones.
I didn’t expect The Book Woman’s Daughter to live up to The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, which is probably why it’s taken me so long to read it. The story, which started in 1936 with Cussy, is faithfully continued in 1953 by her daughter Honey, adding depth and further complexity to an already well-developed story. Though my stomach was tied up in knots with worry about what would happen next, I wish there was more.
I want to know how Honey’s date with Francis goes, when will Cussy and Jackson be released, will they face any further beatings or medical concerns before regaining their freedom, will the sheriff or social services retaliate against Honey, will Bonnie do okay in the mines, will Pearl be safe in the tower now, will Honey meet Pearl’s family – there’s so much more I want to know!
The only complaint I have about this book is that it just isn’t long enough.
I thought about Mama in prison, how different she was treated for being different. But here I’d grown up watching the good bookfolk welcome her with open arms and shout with joy every time she rode in with her treasures. Now here I was able to bring the books like she had, and my heart filled with pride and love for the printed word. Though Mama and I were the last of the Blues, the very last of our kind, and different from others, the books united every one of us.