Set in Depression-era America, a breathtaking story of five extraordinary women and their unforgettable journey through the mountains of Kentucky and beyond, from the author of Me Before You and The Peacock Emporium
When Alice Wright agrees to marry handsome American Bennett Van Cleve and leave behind her stifling life in England for a new adventure in Kentucky, she’s soon disenchanted by her newlywed status and overbearing father-in-law, owner of the local coal mine. 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, the smart-talking, self-sufficient daughter of a notorious local criminal, a woman who’s never asked a man’s permission for anything. Alice finds Margery as bracing and courageous as anyone she’s ever met–and comes to rely on her, especially as her marriage starts to fail.
They will be joined by three diverse women and become known as the Horseback Librarians of Kentucky.
What happens to these women–and to the men they love–becomes a classic drama of loyalty, justice, humanity and passion. Though they face all kinds of dangers–from moonshiners to snakes, from mountains to floods–and social disapproval to boot. But they believe deeply in their work bringing books to people who had never had any, expanding horizons and arming them with facts that will change their lives.
Based on a true story rooted in America’s past, the storytelling itself here is enthralling–the pages fly, and the book is unparalleled in its scope and its epic breadth. Funny, heartbreaking, and rewarding, it is a rich novel of women’s friendship, of true love, and of what happens when we reach beyond our grasp for the great beyond.
I’m a huge Jojo Moyes fan and therefore couldn’t wait to read her latest release, The Giver of Stars. This is definitely a big departure from her previous novels; whilst Me Before You and the subsequent books in that series packs a real emotional punch, The Giver of Stars steps back a little from making the reader properly ugly-cry (…just me?), and instead takes the reader back in time to 1930s Eastern Kentucky.
I love the premise of this novel. It focuses on the real-life Horseback Librarians which operated during the depression era to deliver books and magazines to rural familes who wouldn’t otherwise have access to them, despite much opposition to such a scheme in the conservative Southern state. This is so interesting and definitely something I’d now like to read more about – what a fantastic topic Jojo Moyes has picked to write about! I can see why she felt so compelled to tell this story, and am surprised (as she says in her author’s note that she was) that no one else has written about it, as it’s such a great, inspiring piece of history that certainly should be shouted about more.
The main characters, including protagonist Alice, are hugely likeable and I enjoyed following their journey into setting up and making the scheme such a success (though not without complications!)
I have to say, I found some parts of the novel a little twee and cheesy at times, something I’m perhaps overly sensitive to (I do tend to go for a gritty read above others). I never felt this way about her previous novels despite them having a more overtly romantic storyline, so I’m not exactly sure why I feel like this,.
Despite this, I still really enjoyed reading The Giver of Stars, and following the character’s journeys as they changed and progressed despite the oppressive community they lived in. It’s interesting to remind ourselves of how controlled and judged women’s lives were back then – though of course this sadly isn’t a defunct issue today – as sexism was just so rife during that time. The women’s rebellions – no matter how small – made me cheer as I read this novel and that left me with a smile on my face, so I would recommend this novel for an enjoyable, sweet read.
Many thanks to Michael Joseph for providing a copy of this novel on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review.