In 2019, Kim Michele Richardson told the story of Cussy Mary Carter and her work as a Pack Horse Librarian in The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. Now, in 2022, Richardson returns to tell the next chapter in Cussy Mary’s story, which actually belongs to her daughter, in The Book Woman’s Daughter.
It has been almost 17 years since the events recounted in The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. During most of that time, Cussy Mary, her husband Jackson Lovett, and their adopted daughter Honey, have been living in exile, hiding from the law that would incarcerate them because Cussy Mary and Jackson got married (it being against Kentucky law for a Caucasian man to marry a “blue” or colored woman). Now the authorities have located the family, and Cussy Mary has a plan. She sends Honey back into the Kentucky mountains to Troublesome Creek and the only remaining friends and family she has. She knows that Honey can hide there from the social workers determined to put Honey, a minor in the eyes of the law, into an orphanage that bears a striking resemblance to the Victorian workhouses of Charles Dickens time and novels. Frightened and alone for the first time in her life, Honey will return to Troublesome Creek and, in walking the paths her mother blazed before her, she will find her own.
In The Book Woman’s Daughter, Kim Michele Richardson tells the next chapter in the life of one of the most memorable fictional characters of the last few years: Cussy Mary Carter, Troublesome Creek’s Book Woman. While Cussy Mary is absent in most of the novel, her presence is felt in the stories told about her and the memories held by those she helped when she lived and worked in the small town. Cussy Mary’s impact on her community was substantial, being remembered well over a decade later. When Honey is offered the opportunity to step into her mother’s footsteps, along with Junia, her mother’s obstinate but loyal mule from the first book, she accepts without hesitation.
With lush and evocative descriptions of both the locations and their inhabitants, Richardson describes the beauty of Kentucky and its people. While she doesn’t shy away from the darkness that exists, repeatedly exposing to the light the hateful, and often times confusing perspectives that existed, especially toward women (per Kentucky law, at 16, Honey is old enough to marry and have children, but not old enough to live on her own as a single woman). Just as in her last novel, Richardson portrays the people of Kentucky with grace and dignity. She focuses on the resilience, ingenuity, and bravery of the women who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of their communities as librarians, pack horse or otherwise, nurses, teachers, miners, and fire-tower watchers.
There’s a great deal we all could, and should, learn from the women of Troublesome Creek. Read more in this interview with Kim Michele Richardson.