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The Book Woman's Daughter


The Book Woman's Daughter

Kim Michele Richardson revisits the world of Kentucky’s intrepid pack horse librarians in THE BOOK WOMAN’S DAUGHTER. This heartfelt sequel to her 2019 novel, THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK, follows Honey Lovett, the teenage daughter of Cussy Mary Carter, as she learns to survive on her own after her parents are arrested for violating the state’s miscegenation laws.

Richardson’s previous book was a compelling slice of historical fiction, introducing readers to both the Blue Fugates of Kentucky and the WPA’s Pack Horse Library project. Cussy and her adopted daughter are the last of the state’s Blues, a group of people with an inherited condition known as methemoglobinemia, which gives all or part of their skin a distinctive blue hue. Both also find independence and a sense of purpose as rural librarians delivering books to people living in the isolated hollers of Kentucky’s Appalachian region.

"Honey’s life may be hard, but it’s also filled with joy, and her story will bring a smile to the face (and tears to the eyes) of readers."

THE BOOK WOMAN’S DAUGHTER opens in 1953, roughly 16 years after the events of THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK. Unfortunately, the passage of time has not lessened the prejudice against the Blues. Cussy’s husband, Jackson Lovett, has already spent time in prison for “daring to marry a woman of mixed color --- a blue-skinned Kentuckian.” Though the family has spent the past dozen years living in hiding, the full force of the law has finally come down upon Cussy and Jackson. Facing imminent arrest, they send Honey back to Troublesome Creek. But she suspects that “going back to Troublesome was going to be troublesome to me.”

Sixteen-year-old Honey reluctantly sets off on her stubborn old mule, Junia. (The cantankerous animal, who also ferried Cussy around the hills, is as vivid a character as the various people Honey meets in Troublesome.) She is filled with despair, having realized that her beloved home state “had become our prison…. I felt its shackles and choking ropes on me and my family.” It’s not just being separated from her parents that has Honey despondent, but the threat of being sent to foster care --- or worse, the House of Reform, where she would be trapped until she reaches the age of 21.

Fortunately, Honey has many people in her corner. The moonshiner Devil John makes a reappearance, as does the elderly Retta, who offers her shelter in her time of need. There are also new characters, including Pearl, a young woman who has taken a job as a fire lookout and becomes Honey’s closest confidante, and Bonnie, a widow who works as a coal miner. Honey also gets a job that she knows will make her mother proud, delivering books for the recently revived pack horse library project.

Readers who enjoyed Richardson’s previous tale of a woman fighting stubborn prejudice will warm to this book, which features a robust, vividly drawn cast of strong female characters. The women Honey meets rally around her, supporting her as she learns to advocate for herself and her family. (Despite frequent nods to THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK, this follow-up works well as a stand-alone.)

The characters might be inspirational, but this is not a shiny, sanitized version of history. This well-researched novel does not shy away from the harsh realities of life in a poor, rural community. Honey and her friends regularly face violence, on both a personal and institutional level. (Cussy is a minor character in this book, but there is a particularly heartbreaking twist to her story that comes after she is incarcerated.)

However, Richardson balances difficult moments with sweeter ones, as when a boy Honey has a crush on steals a kiss, or when she attends her first slumber party at Pearl’s lookout tower. And then there are the rich, resonant rhythms of the local language --- Richardson has an ear for dialogue --- and Honey’s quietly evocative observations of her environment. She traverses “coffee-painted paths muttered with rotting penny and butterscotch-colored leaves” and watches “creek waters gasp and ripple over rocks.”

Honey’s life may be hard, but it’s also filled with joy, and her story will bring a smile to the face (and tears to the eyes) of readers.

Reviewed by Megan Elliott on May 6, 2022

The Book Woman's Daughter
by Kim Michele Richardson