I don’t venture outside of my preferred genre that often. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson, is not in that genre. It’s sort of literature, historical fiction, with a little romance all rolled into one, maybe? It was a book club book, and I wasn’t really looking forward to it because I knew it wasn’t my usual thing.
It wasn’t my thing, but reading this book was a surreal experience. I’ll get to that.
The summary from Goodreads…
“The lonely young Appalachian woman joins the historical Pack Horse Library Project of Kentucky and becomes a librarian, riding across slippery creek beds and up treacherous mountains on her faithful mule to deliver books and other reading material to the impoverished hill people of Eastern Kentucky.
Along her dangerous route, Cussy, known to the mountain folk as Bluet, confronts those suspicious of her damselfly-blue skin and the government’s new book program. She befriends hardscrabble and complex fellow Kentuckians, and is fiercely determined to bring comfort and joy, instill literacy, and give to those who have nothing, a bookly respite, a fleeting retreat to faraway lands.
Inspired by the true and historical blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek showcases a bold and unique tale of the Packhorse Librarians in literary novels—a story of fierce strength and one woman’s belief that books can carry us anywhere—even back home.“
It’s a heavy book, you should know. It’s not light and fluffy. But it’s well-written and goes into so much detail about the setting, the lifestyles, and the people. And here’s where the surreal part comes in… I actually didn’t read the summary until after I finished the book, so I didn’t realize it was inspired by a true story. But the entire time I was reading it, I was thinking, “OMG, this is SO real! It’s exactly as I knew it!” even though I’m too young to know that time frame.
See, my dad grew up in that area. A little after that time frame… the story is set in the 1930s, and he was born in the 40s. And once I finished the book and realized it was inspired by true events, I looked it up. An outpost had been planned for Somerset, KY, which is about 25 miles from where my dad grew up. If you’ve never seen southeastern Kentucky, it’s hard to get a good picture of what life was like there, or at least how I remember it.
Once or twice a year, we’d drive there from western Kentucky. The drive got shorter as I got older and the roads improved. I remember two-lane windy roads and a wooden bridge when I was young. And mountains, or at least what led to mountains. But so many trees and hills. Tiny houses, some of which looked to be on the verge of falling down. Trailers set into the side of the mountain. Many houses without running water, even in the 1980s.
The author’s descriptions of how hillfolk didn’t trust the government and how education was discouraged… while not as prevalent by the time I was old enough to see it, it was still true. If someone graduated high school, that was more than enough. And looking back on those visits through adult eyes, I can see the distrust of the government and outsiders. Pride was a real thing.
With all that said, it’s been about 30 years since I’ve been there, and things inevitably change. Progress happens, whether you’re ready for it or not. But I’d like to thank Kim Michele Richardson for taking me back to a time I thought I had mostly forgotten. The book was authentic, and I expect that it will stay with me for a long time. I highly recommend the book.