The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

A Novel

eBook - 2019
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The New York Times and USA Today bestseller!

"...a hauntingly atmospheric love letter to the first mobile library in Kentucky and the fierce, brave packhorse librarians who wove their way from shack to shack dispensing literacy, hope, and — just as importantly — a compassionate human connection."—Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants

The hardscrabble folks of Troublesome Creek have to scrap for everything—everything except books, that is. Thanks to Roosevelt's Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project, Troublesome's got its very own traveling librarian, Cussy Mary Carter.

Cussy's not only a book woman, however, she's also the last of her kind, her skin a shade of blue unlike most anyone else. Not everyone is keen on Cussy's family or the Library Project, and a Blue is often blamed for any whiff of trouble. If Cussy wants to bring the joy of books to the hill folks, she's going to have to confront prejudice as old as the Appalachias and suspicion as deep as the holler.

Inspired by the true blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service of the 1930s, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a story of raw courage, fierce strength, and one woman's belief that books can carry us anywhere—even back home.

Additional Praise for The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek:
"A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word."—Kirkus
"A timeless and significant tale about poverty, intolerance and how books can bring hope and light to even the darkest pocket of history."—Karen Abbott, New York Times bestselling author of Liar Temptress Soldier Spy
"Emotionally resonant and unforgettable, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a lush love letter to the redemptive power of books."—Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Almost Sisters

Published: Sourcebooks


From the critics

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Jun 05, 2021

Really liked the story; my wife actually studied the family on which this was based in med school. The main character is particularly interesting if you read the note about the author. It makes you appreciate why she chose such a difficult topic. I also loved the joy that the many children got from books. In these days of Tiktok and youtube, it is important to remember the adventure that books can bring to young and not so young people.

May 02, 2021

I learned a lot! I knew nothing about the blue-skinned people of Kentucky or the Pack Horse Library Project. It was just such a downer book! I needed some moments of hope and light, and there were none. Tragic lives. Well-written though!

Apr 30, 2021

I'll confess that the reason I'm giving this book 5 stars instead of 4 is that I think it was an important read - though it was certainly also extremely well written.

It's both tragic and inspiring at the same time, describing life in a part of society that is often overlooked both historically and in the modern age - those living in abject poverty. In this case, Cussy Mary lives in a coal mining town in rural Kentucky in the 1930s where "the Company" keeps its workers poor and indebted to them with little regard for their health or safety. And the miners and their families are not even the poorest people in the area. In her travels as "book woman", Cussy Mary visits a whole host of families, most of whom are literally wasting away and for whom death by hunger is a very real possibility.

Layered over this, we learn about the "book women" (traveling librarians) who not only delivered books, magazines, newspapers, etc. but often had to read them to the patrons, many of whom could not read (whether due to illiteracy or failing vision).

And then add another layer of dealing with prejudice because Cussy Mary's family has a rare genetic condition giving them blue skin which classifies them as "coloured". As such, they were discriminated against but could not fight back without being attacked or even killed. This prejudice was not, of course, limited to the "blues"; Cussy Mary's black friend and co-worker is also an important character.

Which is not to say that everybody was horrible to Cussy Mary and her family. She definitely has patrons who love her, and she does make friends.

This is a quiet book that is primarily an exploration of life under these circumstances. For those of us who enjoy such things, it's a great one.

Apr 16, 2021

Recommended by Lyn - April 2021

Tammyd60 Mar 25, 2021

WOW!!! It starts slowly but is so worth the read

WPL_Erin Mar 04, 2021

This was a bit hard to get into, and was pretty basic for the first half or so. the last third of the book was lovely! It really tied everything together and I loved the sense of community that was at the end of the book.

I also really researching afterwards, the real and true blue people of Kentucky.

Feb 24, 2021

This is one of the best historical novels I have ever read. It is three stories in one novel. Set n the 1930s in a backwoods Kentucky mining community The main story and character is a blue skinned woman who becomes a traveling librarian under a FDR/WPA program aimed at bringing books and literacy to communities lacking both libraries and decent schools. Cussy Mary travels up hills, through dark woods and across streams on an ornery mule to reach folks living in the backwoods, who are as hungry for reading materials as they are for equally scant food.

The second plot line is the conflict between exploitative mine owners and the underpaid miners working under dangerous life threatening conditions.

The third plot line is the hostility to Cussy Mary because of her blue skin, a genetic variant caused by a missing enzyme. Prejudice and discrimination against non white skinned folks is pervasive, cruel, and extensive, leading to death, serious injuries and ostracism.

The author weaves these three plot lines together in a way that helps readers understand a little k ow, time period, program, a community and its people.


Feb 21, 2021

Great book based on history!! Bought two copies to pass on.

Jan 18, 2021

I read this book when it first came out and I still talk and think about it. It is a great read with a women to be reconned with. Cussy is a strong willed yet caring person, you cannot help but care for her.

Jan 16, 2021

Excellent read....highly recommended! I'd never heard of the genetic condition causing people to have blue skin.
Cussy is a strong woman, overcoming obstacles most never have to face while bringing the gift of reading/learning to the hill people of Kentucky. The poverty and struggle of the people to survive is heartbreaking. There are lots of hardships for many, especially for the coal miners of Kentucky. The service Cussy provides is important and appreciated by the library patrons. Prejudice and ignorance are rampant in the hills and the times, but finally Cussy 's perseverance stands her in good stead!

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Oct 22, 2019

“The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man.” —T. S. Eliot
The Epigraph

Oct 22, 2019

“Being able to return to the books was a sanctuary for my heart. And a joy bolted free, lessening my own grievances, forgiving spent youth and dying dreams lost to a hard life, the hard land, and to folks’ hard thoughts and partialities.” - p. 20

Oct 22, 2019

“What I wanted most was to be okay as a Blue. I never understood why other people thought my color, any color, needed fixing.” - p. 130

Oct 22, 2019

“There's nothing wrong with your color, being you,’ he said firmly. 'Nothing wrong with what the good Lord gives us in His world, Cussy Mary.’
He didn't know, couldn't know, the load I'd carried as a Blue, the scorn and hatred and gruesome marriage. How dare Pa call me vain and now Jackson. How dare he too? ‘Nothing wrong—‘Jackson repeated.
I stepped back and shot out a shaky hand. ‘No, Jackson Lovett, you're wrong. There is nothing wrong with your color in your world, a world that wants only whiteness.” - p. 204


Add a Summary
SPL_Melanie Jun 11, 2019

It's the middle of the Depression years, 1936 in the hills of Kentucky. Cussy Mary, sometimes called Bluet, is one of the Kentucky Blues -- a clan who have actual blue skin, and are shunned for it. Cussy Mary is determined not to be limited, though, and applies via mail for a job newly created by the Federal Administration in its WPA (Works Progress Administration) program. She becomes a Pack Horse Librarian.

Her job is to deliver books to mountain families along a lonely and hard route, and she loves it, even if the two white ladies running the local depot don't approve of her, one quite vocally and cruelly.

Her pa, though, wants her to marry. After a brief, disastrous union at the beginning of the book, she becomes dedicated to her job and to supporting her pa in his secret work with the coal miners unions.

There is so much drama in this book, so many ups and downs. The historical setting is fascinating and utterly compelling; it is all based in fact, even the Blues. The look at prejudice as related to unusual conditions like that of the Blues, added to the talk of social unrest like unions, the disaster that was coal mining even then, and the WPA Pack Horse Librarian program, all equal a book that is so full of social relevance that it would be worth reading even without the wonderful descriptive writing and the fine characterizations. Lucky for readers that it has both.

This is a book that will grab you and keep you reading. Cussy Mary is a strong and sympathetic main character with the ability to keep her spirits unbowed even with all of the trauma she experiences. And despite one too many traumatic incidents crammed in during the denouement of the book, it feels like there is some hope in the conclusion. And woven throughout is the power of reading and of literature to uplift and broaden a life. If you enjoy unusual historical novels with unique characters and a warm heart of social commentary, this will be one for you.


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