Women form a strong bond while delivering library books in Jojo Moyes' The Giver of Stars
The Giver of Stars, Jojo Moyes
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
Reese Bookclub selection
Published 2019, 399 pages
I LOVED this book. I’ve read many of Jojo Moyes’ books so when I was wandering through the library and saw this new release with her name on it AND I saw it was about a mobile library, I snatched it up.
Based on a true story set in the poor southern Appalachia town of Baileyville, Kentucky during the depression era, it’s a story of five strong women who deliver mail to families in remote areas by horseback, and in one case a mule. Called The Baileyville Packhorse Library these women ride through blazing summers and freezing winters. They fight against nature when a flood threatens the town and lives – my heart pounded reading about some narrow escapes. They fight off unwelcome advances from dangerous men. They can handle anything. The story is similar to one Terrie reviewed a couple weeks ago, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek.
Alice, a British woman, marries Bennett, an American, and follows him home to Kentucky. She learns “people in Kentucky were so much more civil than they were in England where you were likely to be viewed with suspicion if you greet a stranger in too friendly a manner.” There she meets and befriends four other women. Margery was my favorite: a woman who lives on her own terms and doesn’t let anyone tell her how she should behave or what she should do. She has a terrific relationship with Sven, but she doesn’t want to be married. Izzy, a young girl, has a disability but doesn’t let that stop her. Beth speaks her mind. Sophia, a black woman, quietly lives her life with strength. This book has such heart as these women forge a strong bond while they face hardship, prejudice, ignorance, and dangers.
In their travels they meet a variety of people, young and old, some who can barely read and just want “picture books.” They learn what each person wants and gently steer them toward books they’ll enjoy. Including one 64-year-old woman with three good teeth who was a sucker for a handsome cowboy:
“That Mack McGuire, he makes my heart flutter like a clean sheet on a long line. The way Archer writes him, well, it’s like he steps right out of the pages in that book and swings me onto his horse with him.” She leans forward conspiratorially. “Ain’t just that horse I’d be happy riding. My husband said I had quite the seat when I was a girl!”
And when a “sex” book starts making the rounds “It was apparent to anybody who took notice of such things (and Baileyville’s residents make whole careers out of taking notice) that this fall an inordinate number of local men seemed oddly cheerful.”
Alice and Bennett live with his father (Mr. Van Cleve) who is the town’s mine owner, a religious man but not a kind one. He thinks it’s okay to hit women and that women should be kept in line. When Alice has finally had enough of being ignored by her husband and bullied by her father-in-law, who tells her she has to stop working at the library, she responds,
“No, I’m not leaving the library, I’m not married to you, and you don’t tell me what to do.” “You’ll do what I say! You live under my roof, young lady!” She didn’t blink. Mr. Van Cleve glared at her, then turned to Bennett. “Bennett? Sort your woman out.” Alice: “I’m not leaving the library.” Mr. Van Cleve turned puce. “Do you need a slap, girl?”
He’s a narrow-minded, controlling character. “Don’t get me wrong, I am all for books and learning. But there are good books and there are books that plant the wrong kinds of idea, books that spread untruths and impure thoughts. Books that can, if left unmonitored, cause divisions in society.”
There are many touches of humor such as when Alice and Margery were riding and delivering books. Margery starts talking about lions, gazelles, and hippos in Africa and Alice asks “So…Margery? If you’ve never been further east than Lewisburg, how is it you know so much about animals in Africa?” It’s terrific when Margery gives her an “are you kidding look” and Alice realizes it’s because of what they do – books!
Things takes an especially serious turn when Margery ends up in prison awaiting trial for murder. Confined for a long period, the other librarians began bringing her food and when one day a neighbor comes by and the guard tries to turn her away, she “cut him down with a look that could have frozen hot soup.”
Filled with characters you feel you know and that you care about, and danger, floods, romance, death, animals, downright mean people, and kind people; this book had everything. I was sorry when it ended. I’m a person who re-reads books that I really love, and this is going to be one of those! Let me know in the comments if you agree.
woods background photo Terrie Purkey; horse photo via unsplash; book photo via Guzz Akala via unsplash