– The Giver of Stars

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes. New York: Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, 2019. 390 pp.

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes is a delightful, feel-good read, filled with adventure, friendship, and romance. Based on the actual historical group of women who became known as The Pack Horse Librarians, the novel is set in the 1930s in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky.

Alice Wright always seemed to be the black sheep in her proper, wealthy English family. She marries handsome, successful American Bennett Van Cleve and moves with him to Kentucky, attempting to escape her suffocating life in England. However, she does not seem to be able to fit in well in her new town either. What seemed like the perfect marriage to the perfect man proves to be very imperfect, and Alice struggles to live up to the expectations of people in her new town, and especially those of her new husband and father-in-law.

When Alice learns of the recruiting call for women to carry books to the most rural of Kentucky mountain homes as part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s initiative of a traveling library, she jumps at the opportunity. She is trained by Margery, a smart, independent woman who has lived her whole life in these mountains. She knows the rough terrain and the sometimes rough people who inhabit it. Three other women join their group and embark on the adventure of a lifetime—their mission which they all staunchly believe in and execute with a passion, to deliver books to the most remote parts of the mountains—but the greatest adventure ends up being the strong friendship they form with each other and the journey each woman takes to find her place in a society that had a very limited place for women at the time.

The harsh, beautiful landscape of the Appalachian Mountains is as strong and present as another character. The sweet, suspenseful story is heartbreaking and heartwarming. Each character is nuanced and relatable, from the five packhorse librarians, to the men they love, to mountain families, some of whom have never even learned to read or owned a book until the dedicated pack horse librarians overcame the elements and hostile landowners and the stifling social constructs that women during that time faced to bring them books. In the end, love and friendship triumph.

This rich, fascinating portion of American history translates into a captivating, heartwarming, memorable story that exemplifies the power of friendship, courage, and of course, books.

Jenna Beers is a library assistant in the Children’s Department at Graham Public Library. She can be reached at jbeers@alamancelibraries.org.

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