The Giver of Stars is an historical fictional recount of The Pack Horse Library. Set in Depression-era America, author Jojo Moyes tells the tale of five pack horse librarians who rode through rain, sleet, and snow to bring books to homes in rural Kentucky, an area with little access to reading material. It’s a vivid story about the importance of connection and what it means to be an independent thinker.
To sum up the book, here are three quotes from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a vocal supporter of the Pack Horse Librarians.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
The novel opens with the leader of the Pack Horse Librarians, Margery O’Hare, mid-conflict as she tries to make her way through the mountains of Kentucky, only to be greeted by the barrel of a gun. Marg is a bullheaded, independent woman who is wrongfully judged by the misdeeds of her family. Her open-mind, and open mouth, in a small town is controversial but inspired, as she creates her own path (and later, her own family). She stands up for herself and her beliefs, with a no holds barred attitude about the equality for all people, despite their race, sex, or status in society. Throughout the novel we can sense this characters resilience, passion, compassion, and strength. She is the forthright heroine in many ways, even as her opening scene conflict comes full circle in the end.
“Do what you feel in your heart to be right — for you’ll be criticized anyway.”
The Giver of Stars is primarily seen through Alice Wright. A young, British woman who marches to the beat of her own drum. She is perceived as odd in her own family, a castaway of sorts. When she meets Bennett Van Cleve, a handsome American man, she agrees to marry him and move across the Atlantic to Baileyville, Kentucky to pursue a life free of judgement. It’s here that Alice realizes she cannot conform to society, on either side of the Atlantic, or the restrictions her husband and new father-in-law place upon her. She joins the Pack Horse Library as a form of freedom, and stands by the other four women through countless controversy. Throughout the novel, despite the criticism from society, her new in-laws, and her own family, Alice finds adventure, love, and friendship.
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”
The small town of Baileyville, Kentucky, where The Giver of Stars’ library resides, goes through growing pains with the Pack Horse Library. In 1930s America women still ‘belonged’ in the home as wives and caretakers. Five women setting out, on horseback, to deliver books to homes across the state soon becomes a controversial, though enlightened, situation. As with many small, worship towns the question arises about the kinds of books being shared and the topics of conversation brought out by them. As The Pack Horse Librarians deliver ideas in the form of books, small town minds soon grow into a more educated society.
Thanks to her hands on research and experience, Jojo Moyes writes in such detail that you’d almost believe she lived in that era. For those who love the iconic imagery of horseback America, The Giver of Stars is an adventurous novel that will make you believe in the power of love, friendship, and literacy.