Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.
When Alice meets the handsome Bennett Van Cleve, she can’t waited to leave her boring English life behind and travel with her new husband to Kentucky. What she didn’t expect was to be living in a small town in the Appalachian mountains, under the oppressive roof of her father-in-law, owner of the local coal mine and a man with very specific ideas on how a woman should behave. So when a call goes out for lady librarians to deliver books around the county on horseback, she jumps at the opportunity.
Riding all winter, a librarian would wrap up so heavily it was hard to remember what she looked like underneath.
The WPA Pack Horse Library Project was an initiative with ran from 1935 to 1943, delivering books to those without access to books and improving literacy rates in rural areas. It was a time and place where people were suspicious of outsiders and new ideas.
Jojo Moyes might be best known for her contemporary fiction, but she’s already got several historical fiction books under her belt. The Giver of Stars isn’t based on a specific library but there were many like them. There is even a record of one run by a Mrs Van Cleve, but it wasn’t an Alice.
In Baileyville, women are expected to get married and have babies. They shouldn’t be gallivanting around the mountains of horseback. Alice is having troubling fitting in, her home-life is miserable and the town’s ladies view her with disapproval, especially Bennett’s childhood sweetheart. The library provides her purpose and friendship, and a sense of independence. The librarians were paid, at a time when there weren’t a lot of employment opportunities for women.
Alice sat on the swing seat, listening to the crickets and wondering how she could be in a house full of people and also in the loneliest place of earth.
Margery is an outsider too. She’s from bad blood if you listen to the townsfolk, but that’s compounded by her desire not to conform to the standards expected of her. She’s an unmarried women with no desire to get married, despite a man who loves her. She does not want to be owned. At the time that was a scandalous notion to have, and soon she is being accused of spreading immoral ways via the library.
The library’s mission is set against the backdrop of horrific conditions at the mine run by Alice’s father-in-law. This was a time where unions were starting to form and bosses did everything they could do to keep them out. The area also suffered from severe flooding in this period which is also covered in the story. And of course, the racism of the time is rife, with certain townsfolk aghast at a black librarian in their white library.
Mr Leland says one of your librarians is with child out of wedlock after becoming crazed with lust from a romance novel.
Each chapter starts with an extract from a book that I’m assuming would have been available at the time. Certainly things that give an idea of what they might have been reading. The librarians didn’t just deliver books, they also circulated magazines, comics and recipes. When books got damaged they would salvage what they could and sew together new editions.
The Giver of Stars is published by Penguin and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 3rd October 2019. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.
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