The Giver of Stars…
About the Book:
Inspired by a remarkable true story, the unforgettable journey of five extraordinary women living in extraordinary and perilous times.
Alice Wright has travelled halfway across the world to escape her stifling life in England. Handsome American businessman Bennett Van Cleve represents a fresh start. But she soon realises that swapping the twitching curtains of suburbia for newlywed life in the wild mountains of Kentucky isn’t the answer to her prayers. But maybe meeting Margery O’Hara is. The heart and backbone of the small community of Salt Lick, a woman who isn’t afraid of anything or anyone, Margery is on a mission.
Enlisting Alice, along with three other women, all from very different backgrounds, to join her, the band of unlikely sisters battle the elements and unforgiving terrain – as well as brave all manner of dangers and social disapproval – to ride hundreds of miles a week to deliver books to isolated families. Transforming the lives of so many is all the impetus they need to take such risks.
And for Alice, her new job and blossoming friendships become an unexpected lifeline, providing her with the courage she needs to make some tough decisions about her marriage. Then a body is found in the mountains, rocking the close-knit community and tearing the women apart as one of them becomes the prime suspect. Can they pull together to overcome their greatest challenge yet?
A love letter to the power of books and literature and their ability to bring us together and deliver the truth, as well as a tribute to female friendship, The Giver of Stars is the book that Jojo Moyes was born to write.
Recent releases from Jojo Moyes have focused on the Me Before You trilogy, but she has written historical fiction in the past, of which I was a fan, so it’s nice to see her return to this territory. I enjoyed this novel immensely, both the topic and history it covered along with the characters. Focusing on the WPA Horseback Librarian programme set up in the 1930s by Eleanor Roosevelt to improve literacy within Kentucky, The Giver Of Stars is a book about books – a reader’s dream.
‘The WPA’s Horseback Librarian programme ran from 1935 to 1943. At its height it brought books to more than a hundred thousand rural inhabitants. No programme like it has ever been set up since.
Eastern Kentucky remains one of the poorest – and most beautiful – places in the United States.’ – Author’s Postscript
This is not the first novel I’ve read about the Kentucky packhorse librarians. Earlier this year, I read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek (see my review here), which was a deeply affecting read. Fortunately, there were more differences than similarities between these two excellent novels, so I was able to avoid falling into a comparison trap.
‘The Packhorse Library had become, in the months of its existence, a symbol of many things, and a focus for others, some controversial and some that would provoke unease in certain people however long it stayed around.’
Jojo Moyes has done a splendid job with capturing the historical tone of her setting along with tapping into the social fabric of Kentucky life in the 1930s. The poverty, the violence, the extreme temperatures and terrain. But also the community spirit balanced against the community prejudices. She examines the environmental, economical, and community effects of unregulated coal mining throughout the mountains, detailing the impacts this has had on compounding poverty. Above all though, The Giver Of Stars is a two-fold story about women: how they can band together over a common cause, forming strong bonds of enduring friendship, going above and beyond for each other and what they believe in; and on a more sombre note, how much they lack agency over their own lives.
‘You know the worst thing about a man hitting you?’ Margery said finally. ‘Ain’t the hurt. It’s that in that instant you realise the truth of what it is to be a woman. That it don’t matter how smart you are, how much better at arguing, how much better than them, period. It’s when you realise they can always just shut you up with a fist. Just like that.’
There’s not a bit about this novel that I didn’t like. It’s written with a spark of humour and a river of true feeling. The beauty of the Kentucky wilderness shines through, the author’s admiration for the place very much in evidence. The history conveyed is well balanced with the more dramatic aspects of the storyline, making this novel a page turner in every sense of the expression. Highly recommended reading. I heard a rumour that this story might be headed to the movies – fingers crossed this is true. I’ll look forward to that!
About the Author:
Jojo Moyes was raised in London. She writes for the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Red and Woman & Home. She’s married to Charles Arthur, technology editor of The Guardian. They live with their three children on a farm in Essex, England.
The Giver of Stars
Published by Penguin Random House Australia
Released 1st Oct 2019