REVIEW: The Book Woman’s Daughter by Kim Michele Richardson
Bestselling historical fiction author Kim Michele Richardson is back with the perfect book club read following Honey Lovett, the daughter of the beloved Troublesome book woman, who must fight for her own independence with the help of the women who guide her and the books that set her free.
In the ruggedness of the beautiful Kentucky mountains, Honey Lovett has always known that the old ways can make a hard life harder. As the daughter of the famed blue-skinned, Troublesome Creek packhorse librarian, Honey and her family have been hiding from the law all her life. But when her mother and father are imprisoned, Honey realizes she must fight to stay free, or risk being sent away for good.
Picking up her mother’s old packhorse library route, Honey begins to deliver books to the remote hollers of Appalachia. Honey is looking to prove that she doesn’t need anyone telling her how to survive. But the route can be treacherous, and some folks aren’t as keen to let a woman pave her own way.
If Honey wants to bring the freedom books provide to the families who need it most, she’s going to have to fight for her place, and along the way, learn that the extraordinary women who run the hills and hollers can make all the difference in the world.
‘Show me a family of readers, and I will show you the people who move the world.’
Dear Ms. Richardson,
I fell in love with the independent spirit of Cussy Carter in “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek.” Faced with a world that had few jobs for women in 1936 and that also despised her blue skin coloring, she persevered in the Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project, working hard to bring books and other reading material to poor Appalachian families desperate for it. Now almost twenty years later, her (adopted) daughter will have to fight her own battles.
The “almost twenty years” is important because Honey Lovett’s (adopted) parents have just been arrested and hauled off to jail for violating miscegenation laws leaving sixteen year old Honey on her own. The state won’t view her as an adult until she turns eighteen and a virulent state social worker is determined to see an also blue skin tinged Honey sent to a reform school where she’ll be in leg chains and breaking rock until the age of twenty-one. Yep, the state can tack on three extra years of misery.
Luckily Honey’s parents have lawyers and have made provisions for this by selecting a guardian to look after her. Unfortunately despite that, Honey soon finds herself alone and scrambling for gainful employment as well as ducking from the social worker and an enraged coal mining, wife beating husband. Can she continue in her mother’s tradition of bringing books to people starved for them while trying to earn her freedom?
Books are the cornerstone to greater minds.
I seem to be reading a lot of books lately that feature women fighting against unfair laws or men determined to keep them in their place. Here Honey is joined by Pearl, a nineteen year old just hired as a fire watcher, and Bonnie, a widow woman now working in the coal mines for money to feed her child after her husband died. All three women are just trying to earn a living and, in the case of two of them, do what they love. Bonnie loathes the mines and the miners who make her life hell. Another young teen – a wild child – has also had run-ins with a certain miner who has fixed his anger on Honey, for daring to bring longed for books to his beaten wife, and Pearl, who was hired for her position ahead of several male applicants.
It’s Honey, through an old newspaper she finds among the library reading material, who just might have found a way to get her freedom. But before that, she fights for the ability to contact her parents and see to them getting better treatment in prison as well as helping her friends endure and survive worse than the “male gaze.” There are people willing to help her as well as ones who want to crush her – and the other women – down.
There were times when I was cheering Honey on and times when I was dreading what I thought might be coming next. Honey must simultaneously work within the system as well as try and buck it. She knows when she must look down and avoid conflict not only as a female in a hardscrabble land that doesn’t prize women’s independence but also as a Blue – one of the despised people of the area with a rare blood condition that turns their skin varying shades of blue. Cussy’s skin is always a deep blue while Honey’s hands and feet can betray her when she gets agitated or angry. Blues were considered to be colored and thus legally couldn’t marry non-Blues under miscegenation laws – something that has now sent her parents to jail.
I enjoyed spending more time in the hollers and ridges of southern Appalachia. This is a place I used to routinely go through on the way to or from visiting relatives when I was young. It is beautiful land with ways that outsiders don’t always understand or appreciate. It’s a place that Cussy and her husband didn’t want to leave as it’s home and they raised Honey to appreciate books and reading just as they did.
In the first book, which readers don’t need to read before this one, I felt that the end of the book was a bit of a pile-on of woe. Here the finale is one I knew was coming but wasn’t sure how it would be handled. What happens is lovely as the relationships and deeds Honey has developed and done come together – along with a little bit of fruition of seeds of literacy that Cussy sowed years earlier. It is not always an easy book to read due to some of the tags I’ve added. Readers who might be triggered are urged to read those as there are some violent scenes and, in places, outcomes. One thing I wanted to see was the resolution of Cussy’s and Jackson’s situations plus see if Honey found handsome Francis’s mother’s banana pudding as good on a date as he said it would be. B