There’s background to this story that is relayed in The Book Woman’s Daughter such that this can be read as a stand alone book or the two books can be read out of order. If you asked me which I’d prefer, I’m glad I read the earlier book first. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. This first book featured Cussy Mary Carter, By the end of that novel, Cussy had married Jackson Lovett, but, because she had a genetic blood disorder that turned her full body blue authorities found their marriage violated the miscegenation laws against interracial marriage. Jackson is jailed, then barred from living in Kentucky for twenty-five years.
By the end of The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, Cussy had also agreed to raise Honey, the daughter of a young “blue” woman who died in childbirth. The baby’s father was also dead. Cussy was a Book Woman because she was part of the Pack Horse Project, a WPA program that ran from the mid-thirties to the early forties delivering library books to people in remote parts of Appalachia. She fundamentally believed in carrying literacy to everyone.
In The Book Woman’s Daughter, we meet Honey in 1953, at age sixteen, living with Cussy and Jackson in Kentucky, but away from Troublesome Creek. Although they have kept their heads down, the law has caught up with them and they are heading to court for violation of the miscegenation laws and for Jackson’s violation of the order barring him from Kentucky. They’ve had some time to prepare, stocking up food in their old homestead in Troublesome Creek, arranging for an old (literally old) friend to serve as Honey’s guardian and securing legal representation. If the guardianship does not go through, Honey could be made a ward of the state and be subjected to hard labor in a reform school until she is twenty-one. If it goes through, she would be considered an adult at age 18. While Honey has inherited the disorder, only her hands turn blue when she is distressed. She wears gloves to hide this.
There are far too many ways to reveal spoilers in this review, so I will just mention that The Book Woman’s Daughter still focuses on literacy for all, on community — those who are racist and those who are open to everyone no matter their differences, and on family. Richardson does so much with this snapshot of rural Kentucky in 1953. In addition to imagining the impact of the miscegenation laws on a loving, intact family, she examines how women in nontraditional jobs faced opposition and sometimes harassment and abuse (a nineteen year old fire watcher for the park service and a coal miner who is a widow). She touches on how other “different” people do not always fair well in a small town, a little girl with a pet rooster who cannot go to school but loves books; a woman with no family, married to a seriously abusive husband and intentionally isolated and terrorized. Then, there are some in between folks like our old friend Devil John, the moonshiner that can’t be Honey’s guardian but is generally accepted in a positive way. Doc returns, a staunch supporter of the blue family, now married to a Swedish woman, Millie who is a fun collateral character. Honey has her first crush on a boy at the store. Her parents face difficulties that may seem extreme in these days, but that I personally studied in law school years ago. Honey’s rights are seriously impacted by her being female. Richardson, without exaggerating, gets these points across. She also reveals the tremendous healing power of friendship, particularly between Honey and the 19 year old fire watch woman, Pearl.
The Book Woman’s Daughter far exceeded my expectations of a second book in this series because I didn’t see how it could be as compelling. It was. Also, I never ever have mentioned book discussion questions I see at the end of novels because they are so trite I want to scream. Those included with The Book Woman’s Daughter are thought provoking and would make me join a book group just to discuss them.