Wednesday, February 03, 2021


During the Depression, FDR established a library service that delivered books to people who lived in the hills of Kentucky and in other remote places. The (mostly) women rode mules up into the hills. It was a hard and sometimes dangerous job, but it brought in a paycheck plus it helped prevent illiteracy. Schooling in these places was also scarce. 

This is the fictional story of one of these librarians. Making it more interesting, Cussy Mary is Blue, coming from a small group, now disappeared, of people who intermarried their way into blueness with a recessive gene. (methemoglobinemia ) Her blueness made her an outcast, much as blackness did some of her neighbors. (There is a lot of racism on display here).

To really stand out for me though, this story would have had to have been more complex. Characters are either all good or all bad. It's straight -forward simplicity reminded me of a YA novel more than one for adults. I expected it to have more information about how this NRA system worked or at least more discussion of the books she gave out and how she secured them. For a book about books, there is not much about books in it. It was certainly worth reading, if only for its discussion of the Blue people. But I find the many great reviews it had received a bit puzzling. 

Apparently soon after this book was published, JoJo Moyes published a book on the packmule librarians too. (THE GIVER OF STARS). It would be interesting to see if that book offered a more nuanced and informative view than this one. 

Again, not a bad book at all but a trifle simplistic. 

For more reviews, see Barrie Summy's blog.


Scott D. Parker said...

I really enjoy many of the little things FDR tried during the Depression, and this one certainly fits the bill. But, like you, with a book about books, I'd have expected much. Reminds me of the history book WHEN BOOKS WENT TO WAR about how the publishing industry changed to help our soldiers have something to read. Still, I'll keep an eye for this one.

Jeff Meyerson said...

You know, people are stupid. I looked at the two books on Amazon, and one "reader" who loved the Richardson book just about accuses Moyes of plagiarizing the other book, even though they were published within a few months of each other and could not have had any connection. Moyes is English, for crying out loud!

pattinase (abbott) said...

The average person has no idea of the length of time a book is in production.
It is certainly an easy read, Scott, which is why I wondered if it was originally intended as YA. Although there are several unpleasant assaults she undergoes, but maybe not.

Linda McLaughlin said...

I loved the book. I guess I got so caught up in Cussy Mary's story that I didn't read it as critically as you did. And I found the story of the Blue people of Kentucky quite fascinating. Haven't read Giver of Stars, so can't compare the two books.

Sarah Laurence said...

I love the concept and recall seeing a video about this (did Linda or someone else review it earlier?), but the execution sounds disappointing. Such a missed opportunity!

Todd Mason said...

Definitely sounds like an excessively notionally "cute" approach. I tend to think of that as the LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE effect. Or the John Irving effect.

There was a notable documentary on bookmobiles and their effects over the last century not Too long ago.

Margot Kinberg said...

Oh, I love that idea for a story, Patti. I'm sorry to hear it didn't live up to its promise, because it sounds like it had a lot of potential, both as a story and as a look at that time.

Barrie said...

Thank you for this thoughtful review. I actually JoJo Moyes's book on my TRB pile. :) You might want to pop over to my blog where Leave the World Behind is reviewed. Thanks for reviewing, Patti!