Reviewed by Laura
Cussy Marie Carter is a young woman growing up in the 1930’s in the hollers of Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. Her parents are some of the few mountain people in the area who are the proud owners of a handful of precious books. They pass these and their love of reading on to their only child. Books are her joy, and consequently, she becomes one of the new Packhorse Librarians, an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt to increase literacy and get books in the hands of those who would otherwise have none. Cussy rides her mule in and out of the hollers taking reading material to the people of Kentucky. Many are joyous to receive the items, while others are dead set against the idea, and opposition to the program is great. The days are long and hard and the dark mountains can be extremely dangerous for a young woman alone, but Cussy is a strong, determined woman dedicated to her mission and her patrons. She forms lasting relationships with those she serves and becomes a valuable part of their everyday lives.
On the home front, Cussy’s father, having lost his wife, is trying desperately to find a man to take care of his daughter when he’s gone. Trouble is, she’s not sure she wants a man and not too many are interested in a blue woman who might corrupt the family line with blue babies. Cussy is one of the legendary Kentucky Blue People, who share a genetic disorder causing the color of their skin to appear bluish. Pa keeps lighting the courting lamp to let suitors know there is an eligible woman available in the cabin, but there are very few takers, until she meets a handsome stranger on her route, and romance becomes a tantalizing possibility.
The Blue People are outcasts and face discrimination on a daily basis. As throughout history, anyone with a different color of skin is viewed as inferior and suspicious. Cussy is never accepted in polite society and the isolation hurts. When a doctor from Lexington asks her to join his study researching the cause of the blue pigmentation, she is hesitant to agree. But after having met someone she feels she could care about, she reluctantly consents. However, the medication prescribed has such debilitating side effects, she struggles with the decision of whether or not to continue the treatments.
This is a fabulous book that showcases a young woman’s resilient spirit as she overcomes prejudice and changes her corner of the world with the power of books. I loved this story so much that I plan to add it to my personal collection. Some books just capture your heart and this was definitely one of them. Being a Kentuckian, I have always enjoyed reading anything to do with my beloved home state. Being an avid reader, I have always been fascinated with the Packhorse Librarians, as well as the Blue People of Kentucky. This book is an authentic representation of both. The language and heritage of Appalachia is well-represented and the story is told with heartfelt realism. Read this book as soon as you possibly can—it is extremely powerful and destined to become a classic of Appalachian literature.