The BookBrowse Review

Published June 22, 2022

ISSN: 1930-0018

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The Book Woman's Daughter
The Book Woman's Daughter
A Novel
by Kim Michele Richardson

Paperback Original (3 May 2022), 320 pages.
Publisher: Sourcebooks
ISBN-13: 9781728242590
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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.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek was a BookBrowse Top 10 Book Club Favorite in both 2020 and 2021.

Kentucky

They still call her Book Woman, having long forgotten the epithet for her cobalt-blue flesh, though she's gone now from these hills and hollers, from her loving husband and daughter and endearing Junia, her patrons and their heartaches and yearnings for more. But you must know another story, really all the other important stories that swirled around and after her, before they are lost to winters of rotting foliage and sleeping trees, swallowed into the spring hymnals of birdsong rising above carpets of phlox, snakeroot, and foxglove. These stories beg to be unspooled from Kentucky's hardened old hands, to be bound and eternally rooted like the poplar and oak to the everlasting land.

One
Thousandsticks, Kentucky 1953

The bitter howls of winter, uncertainty, and a soon-to-be forgotten war rolled over the sleepy, dark hills of Thousandsticks, Kentucky, in early March, leaving behind an angry ache of despair. And though we'd practiced my escape many times, it still felt terrifying that this time was no longer a drill.

I remember when I was twelve, and the shrill air-raid alarm sounded in the schoolyard as we were dropping books off at the stone school over in Troublesome Creek. The teacher yelled out to Mama, "It's a duck-and-cover drill," and then rushed us all inside, instructing everyone to crawl under the desks and cover our heads. It had been scary, but I still felt safe under the thin, wooden lip of the school desk.

Today, at sixteen, I realized how foolish it was to think that a little desk could protect anyone from a bomb—how difficult it was now to believe that hiding would somehow save me from the bigger scatter bombs coming.

I shifted my feet on the stiff, frozen grass umbrella'd under the Cumberland Forest, breathing in the cold as Mama helped me into her heavy coat. In every direction, hoarfrost crowned the forest surrounding our cabin, its gray crystals shimmering through pines, hickories, and oaks, as the twining psalms of chickadees and warblers announced the morning. Overhead, a turkey buzzard glided low, scanning for dead flesh. I shivered as the ugly bird dipped lower and lower.

"You must hurry," Mama chided for the second time, a pull of the cold escaping her breath. "He'll be coming up here to escort us to court anytime now. Remember everything we told you. Everything we practiced."

From the side of our cabin, the hood of a lawman's parked automobile poked out behind a thicket of chokeberries, the first rays of sunlight flashing off headlights and polished chrome.

"I'm frightened, Mama."

"That's not a bad thing, darling daughter. It'll make you more cautious."

Two weeks ago, my parents hid me in the cellar when the law showed up to arrest them for violating miscegenation laws, after a peddler happened upon our family and remarked back in town about Mama's strange blue color. Papa hired counsel, bond was posted, and yesterday word came of a revocation hearing while I stayed hidden in the cellar. Today they would go in front of a judge because of Papa's parole violation on his 1936 banishment order and for daring to marry a woman of mixed color—a blue-skinned Kentuckian.

After Papa got out of prison, we'd moved over to Thousandsticks from Troublesome Creek, and our family had been living in secret here for the last twelve years.

I saw the fear in Mama's eyes as she reached for the scarf. Her hearing was also set for today.

Hiding inside after the lawman arrived last night, I peeked out the curtains and saw him watching from his automobile to make sure Mama and Papa didn't flee the county before the hearing. He'd stayed all night and was out there right now sleeping in his official vehicle. "Mama, I don't want to leave you and Papa. My home." I swiped at my eyes with the cuff of her scratchy wool coat.

Full Excerpt

Excerpted from The Book Woman's Daughter by Kim Michele Richardson. Copyright © 2022 by Kim Michele Richardson. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Discuss the types of circumstances in which a child, or parent, would ask for a Declaration of Emancipation. Thinking about emancipation and the LeAnn Rimes/Britney Spears issues where the child is earning huge dollars that the parent "manager" is squandering or keeping from the child improperly, what should be put in place to prevent this?
  2. Children, especially rural children, were a valuable commodity to families who needed farm labor without having to pay wages. Society continues to be mostly patriarchal, and during the time in which this novel was set, it was the father who could "express" emancipation and consent to his child's emancipation. Discuss patriarchal laws and the role they have played, and continue to play, in shaping women and children's rights and lives.
  3. Does prison labor for children still exist like the historical House of Reform in Kentucky? Do children have to work in juvenile facilities as they once did? Should they have to?
  4. Dogs are well-known for their protective instincts, but in this book, Junia the mule and Tommie the rooster protect Honey and Wrenna. What other animals have been known to protect their people?
  5. Honey's interactions with a far more sophisticated Pearl show a glimpse into innocence and youth, the old land waking up to modernism creeping in, and the mountainfolk caught between their old hard ways and the new advanced world. Though Honey has been well educated by Book Woman Cussy in writing, reading, and more, her isolated life has held her back in other ways. Honey's new friend Pearl is far ahead of her with modern gadgets, young men, parties, and drinking. Discuss their differences, the women's strengths and vulnerabilities, and their adjustments to new environments.
  6. Discuss the different jobs Honey, Pearl, Bonnie, and Amara held. What were the dangers they faced? What are unusual jobs women hold today versus years ago?
  7. Discuss book banning of long ago and today.
  8. Honey's mother, Cussy Mary Lovett, is subjected to forced sterilization while imprisoned for violating Kentucky's anti-miscegenation laws. The American eugenics movement led to this and other atrocities against individuals who were seen as different, including minorities and people with disabilities. Discuss why it is important to remind ourselves of the role eugenics played in America's not-sodistant past.
  9. Child marriages are a global problem that can lead to dangerous and devastating consequences. In America, the marriageable age is determined by states. Many still allow child marriages between the ages of fourteen to seventeen with parental or judicial consent. There are some cases where children have married at age twelve and younger. What are the dangers of being a child bride or groom?
  10. Choose a character from the novel and imagine what their future would hold.
  11. Honey is surprised to find out that Loretta Adams had attended one of Kentucky's Moonlight Schools, which served the uneducated and the elderly. What do you think it would have been like to learn or teach at a Moonlight School?
  12. Laws banning interracial marriage in America were first passed in the seventeenth century. They were enacted in many states until they were declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967. Alabama became the last state to remove laws banning interracial marriage from its statutes in the year 2000. Do you know what antimiscegenation laws your state passed and when they were abolished? Discuss what the history of these laws can tell us about race and marriage in America, both then and now.
  13. How do you think Honey, Cussy, and Jackson's lives would unfold over the next two decades? What relevant laws will change, if any?
  14. If you were to craft a scrapbook for isolated people, as the Pack Horse librarians did long ago, what would you include?
  15. What are popular and favorite recipes of your family and region, and how do they differ or stand out from other families and places?
  16. Do you think Honey purposely selected books from her personal collection to empower her women patrons? What books would you select to empower the underserved or disadvantaged in your area, and why?

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Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Sourcebooks. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Kim Michele Richardson returns to Troublesome Creek, Kentucky, with The Book Woman's Daughter.

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Kim Michele Richardson's The Book Woman's Daughter follows Honey Lovett, 16-year-old daughter of Cussy Mary, the blue-skinned packhorse librarian introduced in the 2019 bestseller The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. As the story opens, Cussy Mary and her husband are about to be arrested for violating Kentucky's anti-miscegenation laws; while Cussy is of European ancestry and her skin color is a genetic abnormality, in the eyes of the law she's non-white, making her marriage to a white man illegal. Should they be convicted, Honey will be considered an orphan and will be sent to the Kentucky House of Reform — a workhouse well-known for its harsh conditions — where she'll be incarcerated until her 21st birthday. To escape this fate, Honey's parents arrange for her to return to remote Troublesome, Kentucky to stay with a family friend. Circumstances conspire against the young woman, and in order to survive she gets a job as an assistant outreach librarian, following in her mother's footsteps as she delivers library books by mule to the area's remote residents. Along the way, she forms friendships and faces dangers while seeking to retain her freedom.

The two novels are structurally quite similar; each is told from the perspective of a courageous young heroine employed during a time when few women worked outside the home. Both books have interesting, diverse characters who encompass a broad spectrum of people who might have inhabited remote Appalachia in decades past. Present in each is also an antagonist who is opposed to the Book Woman's efforts and seeks to stop her, one way or another.

The primary difference between the two lies in the topics on which Richardson chooses to focus. The first novel concentrates on the Pack Horse Library Project established during the Great Depression, and also contains a lot of historical content about the Blue People of Kentucky. The Book Woman's Daughter, in contrast, is more concerned with women's roles during the era. Readers meet women working in the few careers where they were accepted (teacher, nurse) but also others who were trailblazers in male-dominated fields, such as a widow who resorts to coal mining after the death of her husband. This change in focus gives each novel a distinctive feel. In the first, it seems like Richardson started with a hard core of fact and developed a plot around the information. The later book, on the other hand, seems to start with its characters at its center, and as a result it has a more coherent plot that flows better.

Richardson's conveyance of time and place is exemplary, and her descriptions of the beauty and remoteness of Kentucky's hollers almost make them characters in their own right. She's also skilled at painting a complete picture of what life there may have been like — a life that could be grim at times. She fully captures her subjects' prejudices and superstitions, their fears and their loves, and their generous spirits; indeed, these three-dimensional portraits of her characters are perhaps the narrative's highlight.

I enjoyed both works, but thought The Book Woman's Daughter had the stronger storyline. That said, its plot is fairly predictable, and most of the history the author includes doesn't have the "I didn't know that!" quality that makes her first book such a stand-out. Richardson's brilliant character development amply makes up for the novel's imperfections, though.

When all's said and done, it's likely those who enjoyed The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek will also enjoy the sequel. The Book Woman's Daughter can be read as a standalone work but reading the prior book first provides depth that I, for one, appreciated. This novel is recommended for most audiences, but it has a bit of a youthful feel to it, making it especially appropriate for young adult readers. Book groups will find many themes that make for good discussion topics, particularly regarding women's roles, past and present.

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

BookPage
Kim Michele Richardson's companion novel to The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is immersive from the very beginning...It's a spellbinding tale.

Booklist
The Book Woman's Daughter combines themes of sisterhood and justice with vivid depictions of the Kentucky landscape, making it a good choice for book groups and readers of historical women's fiction.

Publishers Weekly
Though the story of Honey's struggle for freedom is a bit formulaic, Richardson excels in her descriptions of the people and places of rural Kentucky. Fans will be delighted to find Cussy's daughter is just as plucky as her mother.

Author Blurb Abbott Kahler, New York Times bestselling author (as Karen Abbott) of The Ghosts of Eden Park
Fierce, beautiful and inspirational, Kim Michele Richardson has created a powerful tale about brave extraordinary heroines who are downright haunting and unforgettable.

Author Blurb Ron Rash, New York Times bestselling author of One Foot in Eden and Serena
A mesmerizing and beautifully rendered Appalachian tale of strong women, bravery, and resilience, told through the eyes of a new heroine reminiscent of Harper Lee's own Scout Finch.

Author Blurb Sara Gruen, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants
In Kim Michele Richardson's beautifully and authentically rendered The Book Woman's Daughter she once again paints a stunning portrait of the raw, somber beauty of Appalachia, the strong resolve of remarkable women living in a world dominated by men, and the power of books and sisterhood to prevail in the harshest circumstances. A critical and profoundly important read for our time. Badassery womanhood at its best!

Author Blurb William Kent Krueger, New York Times bestselling author of This Tender Land and Lightning Strike
Steeped in an intimate knowledge of the traditions and lore of the region and written with a loving eye to the natural beauty of the landscape, The Book Woman's Daughter is a brilliant and compelling narrative - a powerful portrait of the courageous women who fought against ignorance, misogyny, and racial prejudice.

Write your own review

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by BuffaloGirlKS
Resonated with Me
I have a personal rating system I call the 4Es. Does the book engage my interest, educate and/or enlighten me, entertain me, and reach me emotionally? Very few books hit all four components. The Book Woman's Daughter did in spades. The characters were believable and well developed. The storyline was strong and well thought out. The descriptions of the geography, climate, and culture were perfect. As a reader, I felt I was there.

My maternal great grandparents came to Kansas from Hawkins County and Greene County, Tennessee in 1878. Greene County and Hawkins County are in Appalachia bordering Virginia and North Carolina respectively. My mother, aunt, and grandmother (Granny) brought my sister, my cousins, and me up on stories of our ancestors before, during, and after the Civil War and before and after their move to Kansas. Ms Richardson's writing resonated with me. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or learning about other parts of the USA.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Djcminor
An Excellent Story
After reading The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson, I could not recommend the book to enough people. I chose it for two book clubs to which I belong. Everyone I know who has read the book has thoroughly enjoyed it, learned from it, and recommended it to others. When I learned that Richardson was writing a sequel, The Book Woman’s Daughter, I couldn’t wait to read it. I attended a virtual event featuring Kim Michele Richardson through Adventures by the Book; along with my ticket, I received a copy of The Book Woman’s Daughter as soon as it was published.

The Book Woman’s Daughter can certainly be read as a standalone novel. I do think, however, that those who have also read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek will find a deeper, richer connection to the story.

When The Book Woman’s Daughter opens in 1953, Honey Mary-Angeline Lovett is almost 17. Her parents are being arrested for breaking the laws of KY. Honey’s father Jackson had dared “to marry a woman of mixed color – a blue-skinned Kentuckian.” Cussy Lovett, Honey’s mother, has a condition called methemoglobinemia, a “gene disorder that the ol’ doc over in Troublesome Creek said me Honey and Mama and the Moffits had.” Cussy has quite blue skin all over, but Honey’s disorder manifests itself in her hands and feet and only when she is stressed or agitated.

As a minor and with her parents jailed, Honey could be sent to an orphanage until she is 18 or she could be remanded to the Kentucky House of Reform where she would be held until she was 21. She would be shackled and forced to do hard labor. And for what? Because the laws of KY were so antiquated and outdated! Her great fear is that the latter will be her fate if she cannot get to Troublesome Creek where a judge can name Retta Adams, 90, her guardian while her parents are in prison.

Honey, like Cussy, loves books. When she gets to Troublesome Creek, she sees an advertisement for a librarian to take books into the KY hills to isolated people just as her mother had done years before. Honey feels if she can get the job that will show she is capable of taking care of herself and she can contribute living expenses with Retta.

This story takes place in 1953, but it might as well be 1900. People in towns have electricity, indoor bathrooms, and running water. People living deep in the hills of KY still have wood stoves for heating and cooking. They have well water and use coal oil lamps. Honey herself has to learn how to use a public telephone. She hasn’t seen a television and hardly knows what a radio is.

Needless to say, Honey encounters a number obstacles in her path, but she also has friends who come to her aid. Her own ingenuity and innate intelligence serve her well too. I highly recommend The Book Woman’s Daughter. It will make readers angry, make them laugh, and ultimately provide them with an excellent story. For book clubs, the topics for discussion are almost endless: interracial marriage laws, child marriages, child emancipation, and child prison labor camps. Other topics will include the stories from the Pack Horse Library Project and the ingenuity of the librarians who took materials to families buried deep in the hills of KY.

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Moonlight Schools

A black-and-white photo of a group of students at a Moonlight School in Kentucky At one point in Kim Michele Richardson's novel The Book Woman's Daughter, protagonist Honey Lovett discovers that a family friend attended a Moonlight School. The Moonlight Schools were the brainchild of Cora Wilson Stewart (1875-1958), an elementary school teacher and school superintendent in Rowan County, Kentucky. Born in the community of Farmers, Kentucky, she attended the Morehead Normal School (the term "normal school," derived from the French "école normale," referred to a teacher-training college), later known as Morehead State University, and the University of Kentucky before beginning her teaching career at the age of 20.

Stewart quickly discovered that the parents of many of her students were illiterate, and she decided to open the county's classrooms to the adults of the area. She reasoned that most of her hoped-for pupils would need to work during the day, and therefore proposed the classes be held at night on evenings when the moon was bright enough to light the way to the schoolhouse, earning them the nickname of "Moonlight Schools." Teachers volunteered their time for the endeavor.

Fifty schools opened their doors to adult students on September 5, 1911. Expecting turnout to be light initially, Stewart was shocked when more than 1,200 men and women showed up that first night. Ranging from 18 to 86 years of age, they came from a broad cross-section of professions, representing farmers, shopkeepers, housewives and clergy. About a fourth of those attending were completely illiterate, with the rest having received minimal education throughout their lives. Within a year, enrollment had grown to 1,600 and spread across several counties. By the 1914-1915 school year, the number of adults who had learned reading and writing in Moonlight Schools was approximately 40,000. The idea continued to catch on, and by 1916, 18 states had opened Moonlight Schools. It is estimated that over the course of 20 years, some 700,000 individuals were educated through this program in Kentucky alone. Perhaps the schools' most important feature was that they were open to people who might have otherwise been excluded from educational opportunities, including women and poor laborers.

Stewart was adamant that adults needed different instructional material than children, and so developed a curriculum that included The Rowan County Messenger, a newspaper that was written with short, easy-to-read sentences and word repetition. She also published the Country Life Readers, a series of adult primers, reprints of which can still be obtained today. The material was designed both to help her students learn to read and to encourage them towards patriotic and Christian values.

Stewart's efforts for literacy didn't stop with the Moonlight Schools. During World War I, she discovered hundreds of thousands of recruits couldn't read, and so she wrote and published another textbook, The Soldier's First Book. She served as the first woman president of the Kentucky Education Association, and in 1926, she became director of the National Illiteracy Crusade. She also served as the chairperson of President Herbert Hoover's Commission on Illiteracy from 1929 to 1933. She retired from public life soon after, but left an important legacy of advocacy for and access to education.

A Moonlight School in Kentucky c. 1916, from Press Reference Book of Prominent Kentuckians

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By Kim Kovacs

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