In 1935, the administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt founded an important federal program intended to provide employment opportunities to the throngs of workers left unemployed as a result of the Great Depression: the Works Progress Administration. And it is from this unprecedented federal program that the Pack Horse Library program was born, a program whose primary purpose was the distribution of books via horse to isolated communities in the eastern Appalachian counties of Kentucky. Those who engaged in this venerable work became known as Pack Horse Librarians.
When Kentucky native Kim Michele Richardson learned about this program, she became fascinated with those who worked so hard to bring enlightenment to so many and set off on a multi-year research endeavor. The result? In 2019, Ms. Richardson published her debut work of fiction, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, which tells the story of Pack Horse Librarian Cussy Mary Carter, called the book woman by those she served. While a fabricated character, the research Ms. Richardson executed in preparation for her writing of this book is obvious.
Cussy is a well-drawn character for whom it is easy to cheer, since her life is one with many difficulties. Among these challenges is the fact that she is one of the last of the “blue people of Kentucky,” a group of Kentuckians of the past who, due to a genetic disorder, possessed skin the color of blue and were treated with disdain and prejudice by many. Add to this poverty and a lack of opportunities of any kind, and one is left with a rather sympathetic character. But Cussy is not one to let any obstacle stand in her way, and her journey is one fraught with both hardship and danger, but also of love and deep friendship. And the reader accompanies Cussy through this amazing story, sharing in her losses and triumphs.
– Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill