The Giver of Stars
By Jojo Moyes
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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 – daughter of a notorious felon and a troublesome woman 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 Baileyville turns against them, will their belief in one another – and the power of the written word – be enough to save them?Tweet
St Just Thursday Evening Reading Group 7th May 2020.
The Giver of Stars. JoJo Moyes.
A lot of readers said they enjoyed this book, at least to start with. Everyone was interested in the history of the 'packhorse libraries', the concept of them (Eleanor Roosevelt's), and the work of the women who operated them. A couple of people pursued this further and found out more about the libraries and the setting; some were struck by the poverty of this part of America in the 1930s and by the advantages conferred by access to books. Everyone also liked the descriptions of the landscape of the Kentucky mountains and the weather. One said: 'The described sense of place and space was much how I feel here in Cornwall. The mining elements resonated with tales of Cornwall's industrial era.'
Some readers also liked the characters, the strong friendships that developed between the women, the bringing together of different backgrounds and the racial aspect, some thought the portrayal of the Van Cleve family very accurate (in a domestic abuse context), liked Mrs Brady even though she was so overbearing, thought Bennet was 'a drip' and were interested as to whether Margery did, or did not, kill Clem in the incident which opens the book.
Some also appreciated the writing, and thought the author dealt well with the subjects and kept the reader interested. One reader commented that the book reminded her of Little Women, and also of her own experiences of taking library books to housebound readers (in London, not Kentucky).
However, others were less impressed with this book as they continued reading. The plot, they thought, became very predictable and the story-line lacked suspense, leading to a much too tidily-wrapped 'happy ending' (though other people liked this). Many thought that the characters were too stereotyped: nasty mineowner, handsome hero, polite English girl, etc. One reader described the book as 'melodramatic, sentimental and childish', the author having taken a theme from the actual past and hung a story around it, but one without depth or proper exploration of the issues.
Everyone did find something to like in this book, with differing reservations about its style, depth, and handling of the romantic element. The themes of prejudice; domestic violence and bullying; poverty; the work of women; women's social, marital, financial and intellectual independence; racism; and the not-always appreciated role of libraries, were noted by most readers and pointed out as being still with us today.
This book was read during April and May 2020 and the national lockdown because of the Covid-19 virus, and so the discussion was not 'live' as usual, but took place via a Facebook group, email and telephone conversations.
This is a brilliantly researched book about bad-ass female librarians on horseback. What else do you need to know?