By Kim Michele Richardson
Troublesome Creek, Kentucky is rightly named. There are few jobs, too little food other than what can be coaxed out of the stubborn soil and a deep prejudice back in the 1930s. If you are colored you don’t have the same rights as white folks and if you are a blue you are considered to be almost less than human. Children stare and almost everyone refrains from touching a blue.
Cussy Mary Carter is a blue. She lives with her Pa and is proud to have a job delivering books with the Pack Horse Library Project. Pa works in the coal mines and along with the small amount of pay he also collects a large amount of coal dust that resides in his lungs and is slowly leaching the life out of him. Before he dies he wants to marry off Cussy so that she won’t be alone. Cussy on the other hand, does not want a suitor much less a husband. Married women cannot be Book Women and she loves bringing books to people in the Kentucky mountains. They cannot afford books and there isn’t a library to go to in Troublesome Creek.
Known to many as Bluet, Cussy cares for the people on her book route. They depend on her. She grows closer to some than others, but always knows just which books and magazines to bring to each on her route. She goes without food to help feed starving children and brings coveted medicines to sick or injured along with the books in her pack.
The town doc wants to do medical testing on Cussy, but she firmly refuses. Unfortunately she and her Pa need his help and the only way to get it is to allow him to run the tests he has asked for. She will take her first ride in a motor car and go to the city where they take some of her blood and examine her against her will. Surprisingly, there is a cure for her blue skin. The Doc has figured out her ailment and can treat it. She can be white – but at what cost?
The harshness of the hills in the 1930’s is not sugarcoated in this novel. This is where people die from starvation, books and newspapers are hard to come by and blue people suffering from Fugates’ Congenital methemoglobinemia really exist. Ms. Richardson pulls the reader into the hard scrabble life of the Kentucky mountain people. Both the beauty of her prose and the stark realities, she pulls the reader along the rough road Cussy travels as well as the bits of beauty, charm and love she encounters. Ms. Richardson doesn’t just tell the story; you become immersed by the language and descriptions. A couple of my favorites are when Cussy first sees the city. “..the unusual buzz, the city’s open hymnal..” and also when she first sees the city hospital, “…a concrete tree with branches of polished corridors…”.
Be sure to read the afterward that explains about methemoglobinemia, the history of the disease as well as pictures of those afflicted. The Pack Horse Library Project, established in 1935 as part of President Roosevelt’s WPA program is also detailed. By reading the afterward, it is evident Ms. Richardson weaves the facts masterfully into her work of fiction. An advocate for prevention of child abuse and domestic violence (which is also touched on in the book), Ms Richardson has written several novels as well as a best-selling memoir, The Unbreakable Child.
DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy from Bookish and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman