Official Synopsis from Goodreads: England, late 1930s, and Alice Wright — restless, stifled — makes an impulsive decision to marry wealthy American Bennett Van Cleve and leave her home and family behind.
But stuffy, disapproving Baileyville, Kentucky, where her husband favours work over his wife and is dominated by his overbearing father, is not the adventure — or the escape — that she hoped for.
That is, until she meets Margery O’Hare, a troublesome woman — and daughter of a notorious felon — the town wishes to forget.
Margery’s on a mission to spread the wonder of books and reading to the poor and lost — and she needs Alice’s help.
Trekking alone under big open skies, through wild mountain forests, Alice, Margery and their fellow sisters of the trail discover freedom, friendship — and a life to call their own.
But when the town turns against them, will their belief in one another — and the power of the written word — be enough to save them?
Inspired by a remarkable true story, The Giver of Stars features five incredible women who will prove to be every bit as beloved as Lou Clark, the unforgettable heroine of Me Before You.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: Eastern Kentucky, 1937
My Copy Came From: I borrowed the hardback from my local library.
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Review: Heartwarming historical fiction! The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes is a lovely, sweet read set in 1937 Kentucky and focuses on the Baileyville WPA Packhorse Library. Pack horse librarians were a real thing, and the librarians (mainly women) would ride horses and deliver books to those in the country. The Giver of Stars focuses on a fictional group of these women.
“It’s women doing the riding. Delivering the books.”
“By themselves?” came a man’s voice.
“Last time I looked, God gave ‘em two arms and two legs, just like the men.”
The main character of the story is Alice Van Cleve, a British woman who marries an American, Bennett Van Cleve, in order to escape her life in England. She just doesn’t fit in with her family, and feels unfulfilled. Bennett and Alice’s relationship (and lack thereof of a sexual relationship) is a big part of the book. Alice tries to navigate married life with the closed-off Bennett (whom she does love), and Bennett’s overbearing father. She joins the Baileyville WPA Packhorse Library so she has something to do. She meets her fellow librarian, the bold and modern Margery O’Hare, who I can definitely describe as “not taking any guff”, especially not from any man! Margery and Alice become fast friends, and Bennett’s father despises their close relationship, causing much tension in the household.
Other librarians include Beth, another go get ‘um type, Izzy, a young gal who walks with a limp due to polio, and Sophia, a black woman with library experience. Other characters include Sven, a miner in love with Margery, and Frederick, who falls in love with the married Alice. This group of characters really worked well together, and they felt authentic and like they’d get along “in real life”. Sometimes I feel books force characters together, but the characters all felt right at home here and I felt that they actually liked each other. It was nice to read.
“Kentucky, huh? Most beautiful place on earth, and the most brutal. Sometimes I think God wanted to show us all His ways at once.”
Not everything in this book is nice, however. There are some tough scenes involving racism, mining, abuse, and flooding, and these scenes, while tough to read, weren’t overly graphic.
I found The Giver of Stars to be a good, solid read with what you’d expect in heartwarming historical fiction: strong women and kind men, and also some awful men you love to hate and hope get their comeuppance! An enjoyable read that feels a bit too cloying and sweet at times, while also tackling some tough issues. There’s an air of “everything will turn out all right” throughout the read, and so this will appeal to those who enjoy cozier reads. I was entertained and like how Moyes writes. Not bogged down in detail, but just enough so you get a sense of time and place.
“There is always a way out of a situation. Might be ugly. Might leave you feeling like the earth has gone and shifted under your feet. But you are never trapped, Alice. You hear me? There is always a way around.”
There is some controversy regarding The Giver of Stars, as another book, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson, which was released earlier, has some similarities. I haven’t read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, so I can’t specifically comment on the similarities, or to say which read I enjoyed more.
Also, The Giver of Stars happens to be the Reese Witherspoon Book Club choice for November, a fact I discovered after I checked the book out from the library! I think this would make a good book club book as it had compelling characters, wasn’t too graphic, and wasn’t bogged down with too many details.
Bottom Line: Heartwarming historical fiction!
Does this sound like a good read? Do you like cozier historical fiction or ones that are grittier? Have you read The Giver of Stars or The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek?