I was a little skeptical that the audiobook The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson would capture my heart. To be honest, I chose it because I wanted something I could finish within a few trips between Columbus and Las Cruces (11 hours). The title screamed trashy romance and the content (blue-skinned people in the Appalachian hills of Kentucky) sounded implausible and/or exploitative.
Dangit, I hate when I’m wrong.
While, yes, there is a little bit of romance tinged around the edges, the bulk of the story focuses on the imperative work performed by rural librarians through the Works Progress Administration (WPA) program in the 1930s.
Cussy Mary Frazier is a Pack Horse Librarian burdened by crushing poverty and suffocating prejudice. Born with a genetic disorder that renders her skin an unnatural blue, “Blue’in” as she’s known locally, quietly changes the lives of those around her for the better.
While Cussy Mary is fictional, her affliction is real—methemoglobinemia. And the plight of rural Kentuckians during the great depression is heartbreakingly rendered, full of angry mobs and empty bellies.
There are shifts and turns in this book worthy of any mystery novel and the writer’s ability to conjure a specific time and place in history is enviable. But what makes it a standout is the empathetic depiction of its characters in very tender moments of loss.
If you’ve got some time on the road to fill, I highly recommend a few afternoons in Kentucky with The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek.
This book can be downloaded through Libby, the library app used by the Columbus Village Library as part of the New Mexico Library To Go system. Download ebooks and listen to audiobooks with your local library card. For more information or help setting up the app, ask at the library.