Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes, a novel about books, dedication, and female friendship during the Depression years

Books provide people with education and entertainment; they change lives as they introduce different worlds and unfamiliar experiences. During the Depression, the women who transported books in their horses’ saddlebags to isolated Kentucky mountain residents, in all seasons, as part of the WPA’s Pack Horse Library Initiative provided a lifeline of literacy to their audiences.

Hearing about this unique job after a dull church service, Alice Van Cleve grows intrigued and immediately volunteers to join. After getting swept off her feet by Bennett Van Cleve, a burly, handsome Kentuckian visiting her native England, Alice feels stifled by the insularity in her new home of Baileyville, a small Appalachian town, and surprised by her new husband’s unexpected aloofness. Alice had never fit in at home, and with her clipped British accent and dislike for frivolous social pursuits, she’s an outsider in Kentucky, too.

She finds an unofficial new family with the four other pack-horse librarians, including fiery Margery O’Hare, who lives life as she pleases, and Izzy Bailey, a polio survivor with an overprotective mother. All the women face obstacles, not just the harsh elements on the trail, but also Alice’s controlling father-in-law, and townspeople threatened by the ideas the books contain.

Moyes strikes the right balance between the heartwarming details of the women’s friendship and the realistic threats they face. The mountainous landscape comes through beautifully as the women traverse rivers, ride their horses up through rocky forests and down into the hollers, and gaze up at the crystalline night sky. They have distinctive personalities, yet it’s easy to identify with all of them.

Anyone who has read Moyes knows her skill at writing moving, complex love stories, too. While one character is stereotypically evil, the novel is a fine tribute to the devoted, hardy librarians who served as knowledge ambassadors for their region.

The Giver of Stars was published by Pamela Dorman Books in the US and Canada, and Michael Joseph in the UK.  I reviewed it initially for November's Historical Novels Review.


  1. Looking forward to this one, and also the similar-themed "The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek" by Richardson.

  2. Both are worth reading! Hope you enjoy them.