Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: poverty, discrimination, oppression, racism, violence, death.
Goodreads Rating: 5 Stars
“This is what people don’t see, wrapped up in their cities, with the noise and the smoke, and their tiny boxes for houses. Up there you can breathe. You can’t hear the town talking and talking. No eyes on you, ‘cept God’s.”
After the success of a packhorse library in Harlan County, the town members of Lee County’s Baileyville decided to start one their own, and held a meeting calling for recruits- particularly women- to ride throughout the remote parts of the county, delivering donated books to help improve education and literacy.
Alice Van Cleve, feeling trapped in her marriage with a coal baron’s son, looks to the packhorse library as a means to find purpose and a place in town. Somewhat against the wishes of her husband and his family, she joins Margery O’Hare and her small band of librarians. Soon, Alice’s eyes are opened to the small town struggles of rural Eastern Kentucky, and knows that her position as a librarian could have a vital impact on the community and her own personal struggles. As Alice finds her place, she also finds her voice- which ultimately sets off a series of events that ripples throughout the town.
I have to say, I absolutely adored this novel. Moyes’ writing was beautiful, and created a picture of not only the scenic views of the Appalachians, but the immense poverty and oppression by the coal industry in the 1930s. The pace of the novel was steady in the beginning and then got quicker towards the end, which made me tear through it’s 400 pages. I adored the central friendships that were built around the librarians, and enjoyed the character development, though most especially of spunky Beth and tough Margery.
Many have noted the same subject matter as Kim Michele Richardson’s The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, so I want to put my thoughts out there on comparing the two novels.
Moyes, in my opinion, is meant more for an adult audience and written in a mature voice. Richardson’s novel, through her main character’s point of view, is written in a younger voice. Although both have discussed and described sensitive, mature topics, there is a clear difference in target audience. On that, The Giver of Stars is written in third person perspective, which allows the reader to see though many character’s eyes. In comparison, The Book Woman is written in first person perspective, which for me made it more emotionally impacting, as the reader could feel what the main character felt.
The last thing I’d like to point out is that though the subject matter is the same and the settings very similar, each plot line is vastly different, focusing on separate historical points that impacted the librarians. For Moyes, it was the flooding of the valleys, and the treatment of women. For Richardson, it was the start of the coal unions and the medical experimentation and prejudice with the Blue genetics. Though they can easily be compared, the two novels are both equally deserving of being read, especially when at the core of these novels, there lies a fascinating historical discovery that many are not aware of.
To conclude my review, I would absolutely encourage anyone to read The Giver of Stars. It’s a wonderful mix of adventure, crime, romance, and historical fiction that grabs the reader from the beginning and doesn’t let go. I’m so thrilled that I got to hear Moyes discuss her inspiration behind the novel, and I hope that many of you will give it a read.
- Alice Wright Van Cleve– main protagonist, married to Bennett Van Cleve, becomes a pack horse librarian, “English bride”, main mount Spirit
- Bennett Van Cleve– son of Mr. Van Cleve, married to Alice Van Cleve, use to be sweethearts with Peggy Foreman
- Mr. Geoffrey Van Cleve– Coal baron and widower
- Annie– the Van Cleve’s housemaid
- Margery O’Hare– Original packhorse librarian of Baileyville, born on the outskirts, bad family reputation, tough exterior, in love with Sven Gustavsson, main mount Charley
- Sven Gustavsson– Margery’s sweetheart, who wants to marry her. Also a worker at Van Cleve’s coal mine
- Mrs. Brady- initiated the packhorse librarian campaign in Baileyville, recruited Margery
- Isabelle “Izzy” Brady– young girl “forced” by mother to become packhorse librarian despite her difficulties with her left leg from polio, main mount Patches
- Beth Pinker– second librarian to join, young spunky woman who lives in a family of men.
- Sofia Kenworth– meticulously organized woman who is hired on to keep order at the physical library headquarters
- Fredrick Guisler– farmer and horse trainer who supports the library, offering a barn up as headquarters.
- Clem McCullough– moonshiner who causes trouble
- Nancy and Jean/Phyllis Stone– patrons of the packhorse library, Jean is bedbound
- Mrs. Lena Nofcier– chair of the Library Service for the Kentucky PTA- Works Progress Administration
- Peggy Foreman– Bennett’s old sweetheart, who is resentful towards Alice
- Jim Horton– library patron who reforms his thoughts about his daughters reading books from the library
- Kathleen Bligh– library patron with a sick husband whom the librarians- mostly Alice- read to.
Published: October 3, 2019
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books- Viking
TL/DR: The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes is a historical fiction novel about five women who work as a packhorse librarians in the remote parts of eastern Kentucky in 1937.
Read it? Absolutely. Ignore the controversy and read this book.
Recommend it? Yes!!!
Buy it? YES!!!
If you liked this novel or review, check out these similar reads:
- Jojo Moyes; The Giver of Stars Book Discussion
- The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
- Hill Women by Cassie Chambers