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Book Review: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson (4/5)

14 Jul

Our book club is still meeting virtually so all of our selections need to be available digitally. This means we’ve completely scrapped the schedule we had planned out in January and we’re going month-to-month as the selection from our digital library changes. This was a last-minute pick but one a few of our readers had heard of and that one was in the middle of. I hadn’t heard anything about it but began it as soon as I could.

Cover image via Amazon

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

Summary from Amazon:

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.

I have a very mixed reaction to this book. I liked Cussy. I liked Jackson. I liked the characters I was supposed to and disliked the ones I should dislike. I thought everyone’s motivation made sense. I thought the setting was good. However, I struggled with the story. More than half the book seemed directionless to me. Cussy was visiting her patrons and being hunted, unsuccessfully, because of her skin color. Her first marriage ends (this isn’t a spoiler, it’s in the first few chapters). I couldn’t understand if this was a love story, a survival story, or a story about loving your skin no matter what. It felt directionless and I lost interest when I couldn’t find a character goal halfway through. I wanted to like this book more, but I just couldn’t.

I hadn’t read the summary before I read the book, so I was a bit surprised when Cussy was introduced. I’d never heard of the Kentucky Blue People. (It’s a crazy Google search if you have five minutes to spare.) I liked how Queenie and Cussy became partners against racism in their town. Colored meant anyone who wasn’t white so Cussy faced the same discrimination and hatred as her Black coworker. Jackson was a great character, though a bit shallow. I think his time away from Troublesome should have been explored more to understand how he became so open-minded, but he was a very good man.

Harriet was my favorite character. I didn’t like her, but she was my favorite. The petty little things she did to be mean to Cussy made me laugh and I knew that every time she came into the story, there would be a smile on my face. It’s easy to write a character who’s so dislikeable and have them seem comic. Harriet never did. She always felt what she was doing was for the good of her community and that she was following her religious convictions. She didn’t think she was being mean, just fair. Cussy knew how to handle her and never let her mean words bother her which made me happy every time. But I understood how people like Harriet can exist, and how they still exist today and how racism is racism, no matter what race. Harriet highlighted how ugly racism is.

I’ve never experienced racial discrimination the way Cussy did; the closest I can come is sexism. In athletics, I’ve had men underestimate me because I’m a woman and then get mad when I’m faster than them. It’s ugly when it happens and uncomfortable. Cussy had to face that head-on so often. She was very brave.

Kim Michele Richardson Image via Amazon

I can’t think of a part of the book that I really enjoyed. I kept waiting for a plot to emerge and was frustrated when I couldn’t find one for so much of the book. This is part of why I can’t give this book five stars. Nothing really stuck out.

The details about almost all of Cussy’s patrons bored me. I was waiting for all of them to come back into the story in some meaningful way, but only Angeline and Willie did. Everyone else was part of a crowd and was mostly unnecessary to the climax scene where they appeared. Meeting the patrons felt like half the book so this really started to wear on me.

The audiobook was narrated by Katie Schorr and I thought she did an amazing job. I have family from Kentucky and her accent, pronunciations, and inflections were spot on to how my family speaks. Part of this could be how well the author wrote the dialogue and speech, but Schorr did an amazing job bringing it to life.

This book seemed to be more about themes than a plot. The strongest one to me was being comfortable in your own skin. When Cussy fines a ‘cure’ for her skin color, she’s still not accepted. She has to find a way to be comfortable as herself and realize she’s fine just the way she is. She can have everything she wants and needs without changing. Some of it was a little too convenient, but it was still a good message.

Writer’s Takeaway: Plot! I struggled to find a plot in this book. The exposition took half the book, the rising action was confusing because there wasn’t a clear goal or central event. And the climax was a little drawn out and it became a bit muddled which part of it was supposed to wrap up the undefined central conflict. This is something I had to work on a lot with my novel so it frustrated me when it seemed so lost in this book.

Overall enjoyable and entertaining, but it left me feeling a bit jumbled. Four out of Five Stars.

This book fulfilled the 1920-1939 time period for the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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ARC REVIEW: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek- by Kim Michele Richardson | It’s All About Books