"The Book Woman's Daughter" | Reviewed by Pat Sainz
“The Book Woman’s Daughter,” by Kim Michele Richardson, is a prime example of why we relish historical fiction literature. I learned about the Pack Horse Library Project, developed in the late 1930s as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s plan to provide work for women during the Depression.
I learned about congenital methemoglobinemia, a rare medical issue caused by low oxygen in the blood that makes skin look blue. Appalachian mountain people, characters in the book, were carriers of this condition.
In the 1930s and beyond, it was against the law for Caucasians to marry “blue” people. In this continuation of Richardson's novel, "The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek” (2019), Honey, age 15, sees her mother and father brutally arrested and jailed for having violated the miscegenation law. Honey’s mother, Cussy Carter Lovett, is a “blue” but her husband Jackson is not. Honey, adopted as a baby from mixed parents, has blue coloring in her feet and her hands that she can hide.
Honey barely avoids a workhouse for parentless children while her family is in prison. She moves in with Loretta, an aged family friend from the mountains, who helped raise Honey while her mother worked as an original packhorse librarian. To save money for visits to her parents’ prison, Honey takes a position as a packhorse librarian. She knows the job, thanks to her mother, and she rides her mother’s contentious mule, Junia, an animal familiar with the paths deep in the Kentucky woods where houses are miles apart.
Honey becomes a literal lifesaver to impoverished women whose husbands work in the mines. She is privy to the abuse women suffer at the hands of beaten-down men, to the struggles women face when they have child after child, and to the wounded dignity women incur if they work outside the home. Honey becomes friends with Pearl, a young park ranger hired to spot fires, and supports her through cruel attempts to force her out of her job.
“The Book Woman’s Daughter” is a fictionalized account of real people who lived and worked in the deepest parts of the Kentucky mountains. It can be read as a sequel to “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek” or it can be understood as a standalone novel.
Tenderness is at the core of the bittersweet stories of Honey and the mountain people in Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. This novel is a page-turning pleasure with depth and a heart rendering plot.