Kim Michele Richardson spins an emotional tale about the book women of Appalachia adding an interesting twist.
Cussy Mary is a “Kentucky Blue,” born from a family whose skin is literally blue. Already struggling in poor Appalachia in the 1930s, being colored is just another hurdle Cussy has to get around. Called Bluet by the majority of the population, she overcomes her stigma by becoming a Book Woman, one of the programs set up to help the poor area by providing books to the local population. Bluet must content with racist town folk, murderous preachers, and the creatures of the Appalachian wilderness. Each day, she rises above this because providing books, knowledge to her patrons gives her a sense of purpose.
I’ll be honest; I was intrigued because I had never heard of the Blues. And honestly, I feel like my education has let me down. While it was only in small, confined areas, it happened to many other populations and not just Kentucky. There is, in fact, an answer and diagnosis in regards to this and I’ve never heard about it. I loved learning about the illness and it broke my heart that these people were treated so shamelessly. I will make sure my children know their story.
I really enjoyed learning about the life of those in Appalachia. My heart ached for each patron on her route. In fact, I had sympathy for everyone but her supervisors at the Center; they were horrible people. I was frustrated with their fights from the coal miners to the chicken stealers. I do think that these stories were too strung along. There were so many it was hard to truly get into these stories as deeply as was called for. There were times when they slowed down the narrative dragging the story along as slowly as the mule on the rocky path.
That being said, I like how the author didn’t play all her cards upfront. We didn’t meet each patron at the beginning adding freshness to the story and Cussy Mary’s route. But at points, these stories started to drown out the Book Woman’s story.
My biggest issue with the novel is the ending. It is thrown in at the last minute and is a huge twist in the tale. The author handles it in one chapter and an epilogue when it is a clear turning point for the story that needed more time to deal with and understand. A “poof” and its gone answer belittled the event and the story.
Overall, this would be a great book to discuss in your book club. Engaging and educational, your group will enjoy a trip to Appalachia.
Bonus Review: The Giver of Stars
The Giver of Stars is another book to read if you are interested in the Book Women.
In 1937, women in Baileyville, Kentucky go against the wishes of many a man when they take part in the federal program that pays them to make sure even the most remote people had a chance to read. Alice, Margery, and a few others ignore the gossip of the town that women shouldn’t be working at something like that because all the people need is the Bible. The women face many trails culminating in one of the women being accused of murder.
Jojo Moyes presents characters that you can really feel for. This one, in particular, shines lights on the “outcasts” and how they can make a difference if someone just let them. Your group can discuss each women’s story, how they intertwine and how you can see parallels to today.
I really enjoyed how Moyes branched out with this work. While she often works with historic fiction, this one took her out of her comfort zone and showed how well she can understand and empathize with an area outside her continent.
These two books are great stories of strong women in a world where they weren’t usually allowed to be.