October 8, 2019
Pamela Dorman Books
Blurb: 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 Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky.
What happens to them–and to the men they love–becomes an unforgettable drama of loyalty, justice, humanity, and passion. These heroic women refuse to be cowed by men or by convention. And though they face all kinds of dangers in a landscape that is at times breathtakingly beautiful, at others brutal, they’re committed to their job: bringing books to people who have never had any, arming them with facts that will change their lives.
Based on a true story rooted in America’s past, The Giver of Stars is unparalleled in its scope and epic in its storytelling. Funny, heartbreaking, enthralling, it is destined to become a modern classic–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.
I have this amazingly (perhaps) bad habit of zeroing in on a book by a favorite author and saying, “Yes, please,” without regard to topic, blurb, setting, etc. Most of the time the author isn’t writing outside of their (or my) comfort zone, but sometimes I am in for a shock. Such was the case for me when I began to read The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes while expecting something akin to Me Before You and its sequel (I’ve not yet read the third book in the trilogy (I didn’t know it was a trilogy!!)).
Having said that, Jojo Moyes got me and I was gripped within the first few pages. Funnily enough, I wondered what those first few pages were about in context to the story and then discovered half the way through that they were monumental. What excellent craft!
The Giver of Stars is about a group of women who slog books into extreme areas of the Kentucky part of Appalachia to the rural folk who don’t frequently venture down from their mountain. Considering that this book was written by a British novelist/journalist I really have to give kudos for her ear which has captured the dialogue of Appalachia–its hollers and its ridges.
It was also well done on Moyes’ part that she incorporated a British woman, a new bride, into the mix. While she could have used a big city woman from New York or Chicago or Washington, they would have had some peripheral knowledge of what life might be like in rural Kentucky, while someone coming from England would not. So through Alice’s eyes as a well-brought-up–although somewhat rebellious–English woman coming to rural Kentucky, we see things we might not have see as well if they had been presented through other eyes.
Margery, who is the leader of the group, the recruiter and the instructor of the would-be traveling librarians, is the Katharine Hepburn of this town. She wears her trousers. She lives her life as she wants. She is unapologetically different. She has to be because her family was made up of less-than-law-abiding people. She is not that way, but she is every bit her own.
The Giver of Stars is frequently thrilling, inspiring, and heart-breaking. Too often we see reflections of our own time despite the passage of some 80 plus years. Topics like misogynism, racism, literacy, the environmental impact of the coal industry are touched upon. But so is community, neighbor helping neighbor. The idea of individualism. And love, let’s not forget love.
I loved the epilogue, especially the unguessed future lives of the other librarians, Kathleen (possibly because her future is just hinted at), but most definitely Izzy and Beth who Moyes has given exciting adventures.
The quotes at the beginning of each section were very well chosen, as well as enlightening.
I am not one for much historical fiction and so probably wouldn’t have initially chosen the book if I’d read the blurb. But these days, I am all about widening my focus and expanding my awareness. I think we must. I know I must. I am very glad that I read this book. I was completely engaged.
Moyes’ prose was beautiful, her descriptions beautiful and poetic. Her words drew pictures for me that I had no difficulty seeing. If she writes more historical novels, I will be there.
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Regarding the audiobook: I was entranced. Narrator Julia Whelan is amazing. Sometimes when I listen to audiobooks, I start thinking about the narrator’s different tones, the voices of their men and women, and not the book. I did not have the slightest issue with this. She made the scary scenes thrilling, the sad scenes heart-wrenching, and the beautiful scenes just a tad prettier. I will gladly seek out more books in which Julia Whelan is the voice. How amazing she was!
4 butterflies and a ladybug out of 5 butterflies