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The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

Set in Depression-era America, a breathtaking story of five extraordinary women and their remarkable journey through the mountains of Kentucky and beyond, from the author of Me Before You and The Peacock Emporium .

Alice Wright marries handsome American Bennett Van Cleve hoping to escape her stifling life in England. But small-town Kentucky quickly proves equally claustrophobic, especially living alongside her overbearing father-in-law. So when a call goes out for a team of women to deliver books as part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s new traveling library, Alice signs on enthusiastically.

The leader, and soon Alice’s greatest ally, is Margery, a smart-talking, self-sufficient woman who’s never asked a man’s permission for anything. They will be joined by three other singular women who become known as the Horseback Librarians of Kentucky.

What happens to them—and to the men they love—becomes a classic drama of loyalty, justice, humanity and passion. Though they face all kinds of dangers, they’re committed to their job—bringing books to people who have never had any, sharing the gift of learning that will change their lives.

Based on a true story rooted in America’s past, The Giver of Stars is unparalleled in its scope. At times funny, at others heartbreaking, this is a richly rewarding novel of women’s friendship, of true love, and of what happens when we reach beyond our grasp for the great beyond.

My thoughts:

The novel is centered around the lives of five different women – Alice, Margery, Izzy, Sophia and Beth- who become known as the Horseback Librarians of Kentucky, delivering books and other reading material to families living in the rural parts of the mountains. They grow to become close friends, finding a sense of community and purpose through their love for books amidst all their personal turmoil. They face adversity solely due to the fact that they’re women who go against the norms of the time, but they persevere regardless. But when the town is pushed to it’s limit and a body turns up, a book beside it, the library and the fearless women are put in jeopardy…

This book was like a love letter to the power of a good book or reading in general, and how it can empower and improve peoples lives. It was so enjoyable to read as Alice and the other women go on their journeys and build friendships with the families and see the visible improvements, day by day, as the books give them something to look forward to. It’s also notable that the travelling librarian scheme was actually a real one, running from 1935 to 1943 and it served over 100,000 people during this time period. It’s incredible to read this novel and also imagine the real life women who were pushing this cause forward and trying to get literature out there to people who would otherwise not be able to afford it. While the scheme was put to an end in 1943, according to an article I read recently, ‘Kentucky’s public libraries had 75 bookmobiles in 2014 – the largest number in the nation’, which indicates that this desire to read, to have access to books is still wanted and still vital.

Image result for packhorse librarians kentucky
A Packhorse librarian returning over the mountain side for a new supply of books – (image from Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection, Kentucky Digital Library)

As well as this, I also enjoyed that there were multiple perspectives in this novel and we got to hear from each of the women. Alice is an intelligent and well educated young woman, who seeks freedom from her strictly restrained life in England and in her bid to break free she meets Bennett and is carried away by his promise of a new, exciting life in America. However, when she gets there, she has a rude awakening. Her overbearing father in law is always around and Bennett seems to withdraw into himself, leaving Alice feeling alone and isolated. Therefore, when she crosses paths with Margery O’Hare, a strong willed and independent woman who is leading the library, Alice signs up and regains her spirit and inner fire.

Four of the Packhorse Librarians ready for the days work (Image from Goodman-Paxton Photographic collection, Kentucky Digital Library)

Additionally, as well as finding some meaning in her life, for the first time ever, Alice makes genuine friends and feels understood. As much as the novel is a love letter to the power of books or literacy, it is also such a good portrayal of friendship and specifically female friendship. Each of the women have issues in their personal lives; Margery is fiercely independent and lives life on her own terms, despite the disapproval of the townspeople and her chequered family past. Izzy longs to be a singer and make records, but believes that noone will look past her disability. Beth doesn’t want to get married and longs to be free. Sophia is a smart older woman, who is the brains and organisation behind the library, however she faces discrimination due to her race, being a person of colour, a black woman in a predominantly white town.

Overall, The Giver of Stars was an enjoyable and beautifully written book with an important message and memorable female characters. I haven’t read any other books by Moyes other than Me Before You but I’m definitely interested in reading more now.

Until next time,

Rumaanah x

7 thoughts on “The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

  1. I’ve seen this book around quite a lot and was really intrigued. I hadn’t been a massive fan of Me Before You, but this sounds like it’s completely different, such a unique plot. Brilliant review, adding to my TBR!
    Hels xx

  2. This sounds like an absolutely BEAUTIFUL read. And the travelling librarian scheme sounds wonderful – it’s a shame it was put to an end. I love the cover of this book, it’s so magical. I haven’t read anything by Jojo although I did watch Me Before You and loved the story and the concept so I definitely need to give one of her books a go! x

  3. From the author of Me Before You!! The movie broke my soul, I didn’t realize it was a book until after but all I know is if I read that book on public transportation I am done for and will probably have a lot of tears.

    ANYWAYS (sorry went on a tangent there!) this sounds really interesting and the idea of a traveling library I’m sat here wondering if libraries that deliver is a thing….I mean to be fair I am in the library often enough!

    WOW, the whole idea of bringing books to people who’ve never had any and sharing the beautiful gift that reading is yes yes yes I am loving the sound of this book.

    BASED ON A TRUE STORY! okay so basically I need to check if my own library has this so I can get it ASAP (well to be fair, I do have finish my current book Little Women!).

    That’s incredible that the traveling librarian serves 100,000 people, like the gift of reading brought into all their lives!!! I’m smiling just thinking of it.

    I just checked my local library site and they don’t have it in but I just placed a request for it!!! I CANNOT WAIT TO READ THIS MASTERPIECE

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