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Book Review: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek – Fiction Based on Facts

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

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

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Book Review: Small Great Things – Another Fabulous Book by Jodi Picoult

Small Great ThingsSmall Great Things

A Novel

by Jodi Picoult

Ruth is the daughter of a housekeeper. When school was out, she and her sister would go with their Mama to the big house. They either stayed quietly in the kitchen while their mother worked or sometimes play with the daughter of the family. On one such day a premature baby shaped the three young girl’s lives. Ruth grew up to become a labor and delivery nurse. But more importantly, it was a moment of perfect harmony between classes and races that Ruth would not see again for many years.

Fast forward from 1976 to current day and we find Ruth still doing what she loves. She helps bring new babies into the world, comforts new parents and even helps ease the unspeakable burden when something goes terribly wrong. Until the fateful day she had to decide between the orders she was given and trying to save a baby’s life. No matter what choice she made it was not going to be right, but she could have never imagined she would have ended up in jail for murder.

Enter Turk. He and his wife are in the hospital for the delivery of their first child. Everything was going great until Ruth came in to check on the newborn and his mother. Turk demanded to see Ruth’s supervisor then insisted Ruth was not to come near his child. For no other reason other than he was a White Supremacist and she is an African American. Did his actions lead to the death of his firstborn.

Kennedy is the public defender that is given the task of sorting the details out to defend Ruth in court. She normally doesn’t take cases of this magnitude, but after the initial court appearance, she is compelled to help Ruth. But can her upper class back ground understand the issues of a black woman and defend her?

Jodi Picoult takes social issues out of the headlines, researches the issues from every side and then researches some more. The facts and interviews are fictionalized, and then put together in a way that leaves each side distinguishable and intact, yet interacting with the other sides. One of my professors in college used to say the United States used to be a melting pot, but was now a tossed salad – with lots of individual parts adding to it each keeping their individuality. Some of the ingredients are sweet, some are sour, and some are unknown until you give them a try. This is how I see Picoult’s characters; they are rich, full and different as day and night but are put together for some reason and have to work it out – much like real life.

I am the first one to say Jodi Picoult is, in my opinion, one of the greatest authors today. I have read almost all of her books. She has made me laugh, cry, or become outraged over the issues her characters faced that often seem so unfair. I can honestly say I have never finished one of her books without talking about it to everyone I know that reads and loaning them out so others will enjoy them also.

On a personal note, I’ve met her at several book signings and book talks. She is as delightful in person as she seems in interviews and online. If you get a chance to go to one of her book talks and signings, please do so.

Small Great Things will be available on October 11, 2016 and you can pre-order it now at your favorite bookstore.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from the publisher in connection with NetGalley in return for my review. Copyright © 2016 Laura Hartman

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