The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
Trigger Warning: Abuse, Assault, Attempted Rape, Prison, Incest
Six very different women come together as librarians for the newly established WPA Pack Horse Librarian program, and find their lives changed in ways they couldn’t even imagine.
“Library just exists so people can try a bit of reading. Maybe learn a little if they find they have a liking for it.”
I am astonished to have loved this as much as I did, but I think that’s because I was leery of Me Before You and absolutely hated with the passion of a blue star the much-lauded (why tho??) The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek.
But as soon as I started reading, I was swept up by the intertwined stories of Alice, Margery, Izzy, Beth, Sophia, Kathleen and the people of Baileyville. I was captivated, immersed and in love with these women (ok, and Mrs. Brady and pretty much every woman in the book besides Peggy and Annie) and how the lives of the mountain people of Kentucky came to life.
Alice was the picture of the lost-in-space English rose, who had had her feathers clipped and her body stuffed into a cage (okay, I’m mixing metaphors here, bear with me). In marrying Bennett, she feels she escaped her cloistering family, but finds she escaped one cage only to enter another. I felt so strongly for her, stuffed into a marriage where the ghosts of the past literally haunted every minute of their lives. Talk about turning a house into a mausoleum. Yeesh. Van Cleve Sr was a dick and a half.
Alice was a bit insufferable at first, but as she grew out of her foppish ways and learned to work hard and care for her people, I fell in love. She was kind, caring and connected with a tight-knit, isolating community, even if she found solace in the isolated peoples of the hills instead of the gossiping biddies of the town. And Fred is the perfect man, just in general.
Margery started off as my favorite, however, although over the course of the book I loved her less and less? But also, I understood why she acted the way she did, because what happened to her would have ground down any spirit, particularly that of a woman who had lived her life shamelessly, unconventionally and proudly. I did like her relationship with Sven.
Kathleen, Izzy and Beth were minor characters despite being the other three librarians (technically Mrs. Brady kinda counts too), but while I cared for them, their character arcs didn’t features as heavily. They didn’t really have points of view, but I did love Kathleen’s knowledge of every holler and road and person, Izzy’s determination when someone just gave her a chance, and Beth’s general boisterous cheer.
Sophia, however, was far and away my favorite of the women. Although technically not a librarian, she was the only actual librarian of the lot. I was so upset that she wasn’t able to ride (not that she’d probably want to), but I did like how sensitively and upfront Moyes tackled racism in the novel, highlighting the very real dangers and realities of life as a person of color in rural 1930s Kentucky. And how an educated woman of color might feel stifled, scared and angry at having her own wings clipped. Anywho, I love a woman who is dedicated to cleanliness and organization (probably because I lack both things in spades), and someone who had totally take a hint to save her friends and protect them, even at risk to herself.
“From what I understand it’s just a bunch of girls on horses taking recipe cards here and there”
The above quote was from one of the many naysayers of the library, who constantly minimized or exaggerated what the women were doing to further their own agendas (namely, taking the library away).
One of the many things I loved about this book was that it showed that the power of libraries is not just books. Books are one thing, but what libraries offer is so much more.
They are bringers of knowledge, of entertainment, of power and learning. And mostly they are connectors and builders of community. The pack horse librarians literally changed the dynamics of their small society, much to the detriment of those who realized that it was to their benefit to keep people ignorant, isolated and in the dark.
And ultimately, that’s was libraries are today. Not just books, but connectors to more.
My final thought on this wonderful story is of the concept of power. That women have power, and don’t have to be crushed under the superior strength of men and the weight of patriarchal society. That words and knowledge and strength have a weight of their own. And that no matter how beaten down you are, or how badly you’ve been ground down, there is still hope. Sometimes you just need to take the hard way out in order to free yourself.
“There is always a way out of a situation. Might be ugly. Might leave you feeling like the earth has gone and shifted under your feet. But you are never trapped, Alice. You hear me? There is always a way around.”
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review
The Giver of Stars released Oct 8, 2019 from Pamela Dorman Books