The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

Written by Kim Michele Richardson
Review by Rebecca Kightlinger

“‘Right there’ll do it.’ Pa fussed one last time with the slide on the courting candle, then finally placed the timekeeper on the table in front of my rocker and the empty seat beside me.”

Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. 1936. “There didn’t seem to be much marriage prospect for the last female of blue mountainfolk,” says narrator Cussy Mary. But Mary’s father, a coal miner whose days are running short, intends to see his nineteen-year-old daughter settled.

She resists, for if she marries she will lose her job as a Pack Horse Librarian, carrying books to the hillfolk of “Kaintuck,” and her work is all the security she needs and the only life she wants.      Her patrons, poor and uneducated, and many starving to death, relish the books she brings. And despite the hereditary blue skin that renders their “Book Woman” an untouchable in town, they love and respect her.

By depicting the struggles of a woman whose skin tones range from sky blue to cobalt, author Kim Michele Richardson lays bare the lengths to which Mary is willing to go in order to be accepted, and the prejudice and meanness that underlie her shunning by neighbors and co-workers. Richardson skillfully allows her narrator, without self-pity or boasting, to reveal both the pain of her loneliness and the will and compassion that enable her to survive in Troublesome Creek and even flourish as she makes her solitary rounds through Kentucky’s treacherous hills.

Richardson, a master of phrase, cadence, and imagery, once again delivers a powerful yet heartfelt story that gives readers a privileged glimpse into an impoverished yet rigidly hierarchical society, this time by shining a light on the courageous, dedicated women who brought books and hope to those struggling to survive on its lowest rung. Strongly recommended.