Review: A teenage mobile librarian brings literacy and empowerment to rural readers |

THE DAUGHTER OF THE BOOK WOMAN. By Kim Michele Richardson. Source books. 352 pages. $26.99.

Kim Michele Richardson’s 2019 New York Times bestselling novel, “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek,” concluded with the novel’s protagonist, Depression-era packhorse librarian Cussy Mary Carter , newly married to her mountaineer beau Jackson Lovett and raising their adopted daughter Honey, who shares the recessive gene for Cussy’s methemoglobinemia, which colors their skin cerulean blue.

Richardson’s sequel, “The Book Woman’s Daughter,” offers a long-awaited return to Troublesome Creek, Ky., an environment rich in natural wonders, populated by a lively but tough cast and beset by oppressions along economic divides, racial and gender. The new novel opens with 16-year-old Honey witnessing her parents’ brutal arrest for breaking miscegenation laws after several years of successfully hiding in the howls of rural Appalachia, living a modest but happy.

With her young life turned upside down, Honey must flee to her birthplace in Troublesome Creek, initially aided only by her mother Junia’s cantankerous mule, while avoiding capture by a social worker who sees Honey as less than human. an “it” to be confined to a labor camp.

Honey’s return home brings a welcome return of supporting characters, including Cussy Doc’s kindly benefactor, protective moonshiner Devil John Smith, and willful nonagenarian Loretta Adams, who has been recruited to serve as Honey’s guardian.

Unlike Cussy, Honey’s status as a member of the legendary Blue People of Kentucky is less pronounced, limited to blue skin on her hands and feet, prone to stress-induced flare-ups, but also able to be concealed. While the previous novel paid a lot of attention to prejudice against “people of color,” including the Blues, Richardson’s sequel, set in the 1950s, dives deep into fighting misogyny through empowerment. women through education and brazen willpower.

Richardson features a trio of women establishing themselves in a male-dominated culture, as Honey must now learn to do: teenager Pearl Grant, frontier nurse Amara Ballard, and coal miner Bonnie Powell.

An opening as a community librarian offers Honey the opportunity to inherit her mother’s former background as a book woman serving rural readers, a role in which Honey excels, bringing books, magazines and carefully selected newspapers to its customers. and broaden the scope of their intellectual and emotional life.

But spreading literacy isn’t seen as noble by everyone, and when Honey begins to include controversial texts from her personal collection, such as Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening,” she finds herself at odds with the holders of the paternalistic power established and with the vengeful minor. Perry Gillis in particular.

Acts of violence from male antagonists escalate as Pearl is hunted down at the fire tower and she and Honey barely survive an arson attack, Bonnie is assaulted by the mine men and the woman de Perry disappears after he attacks her in Amara’s house. Honey’s staunch friendship with her circle of friends also puts her life and freedom at risk, circumstances compounded by her inability to help her father during a polio outbreak in his prison or save her mother from the experiences of forced eugenics during incarceration.

But what Honey always has on her side is knowledge, accessible through books and periodicals. She finds there the means to seek liberation through legal emancipation. And in the lessons inherited from her mother Book Woman, she discovers the courage to stand bravely with her friends and the conviction to believe that the inherent justice of the natural world will prevail.

Aided by lush imagery and lyrical use of dialect and colloquialism, Richardson masterfully immerses readers in a time when progressive ideals of inclusivity and individualism clashed with anti-intellectualism and book banning. – that is to say, an era quite like ours.

She also shines in juxtaposing the youthful innocence and hard-earned tenacity of her first-person narrator as this new Book Woman navigates the dangers of her precarious situation without ever losing her faith in the transcendent power of books and stories to embolden. our imagination and transform our lives for the better. An author’s note and photographs add historical context to the Pack Horse Library Project and the Blue People of Kentucky.

“The Book Woman’s Daughter” is a beautifully rendered and eminently timely sequel to the librarian-as-hero tale that has made “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek” an essential selection of libraries and book clubs across and beyond. beyond the South.

Critical Jonathan Haupt is executive director of the Pat Conroy Literary Center and co-editor of Our Prince of Scribes: Writers Remember Pat Conroy. Critical Holland Perryman is the first intern student of the Conroy Center and the Friends of South Carolina Libraries.

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