Wednesday, August 4, 2021

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

Title: The Giver of Stars
Author: Jojo Moyes
Publication: Viking, hardcover, 2019
Genre: Historical fiction
Setting: Depression-era Kentucky
Description: Alice Wright never fit in at her proper English home because she has a mind of her own and refuses to be silent, so everyone is relieved when handsome American visitor Bennett Van Cleave sweeps her off her feet and takes her away to Kentucky. Despite her best efforts, Alice doesn’t adapt to small-town Baileyville and her husband and his father become critical and make her life miserable. However, in 1935, Congress approved the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935, the work relief bill that funded the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Among other things, the WPA and Eleanor Roosevelt funded lending libraries in rural areas and Alice impulsively offers to become one of several traveling librarians, enduring criticism and hardship partly because she needs to escape from her oppressive new home and also because once she gets over her trepidation she loves the work and her new friends, all of whom understand Alice better and value her more than her husband does.

My Impression: Moyes is best known in the US as the author of the somewhat mawkish (but readable) Me Before You but I remember reading about her first book, Foreign Fruit long ago, and ordering a copy from the UK. It was a classic secrets from the past novel set in an English seaside town. All her books are very different from each other: The Ship of Brides starts off very slowly, following a group of Australian women who married British soldiers during WWII and are nervously sailing to join their husbands; then there is an emotional flashback. I was listening to the audio as I drove to Cape Cod one summer and it brought me to tears near the end.

Moyes’ decision to write about rural Kentucky seemed a little odd for an English author but she says in the Acknowledgments that she “fell in love with a place and its people, and then the story as it came,” which is interesting, and it probably helped build her American audience. However, while Alice and her colleagues’ eager distribution of books is based on the actual Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky program that ran from 1935 to 1943, to me the real message of the book is that even intelligent, hard-working women like Alice, and her friends Margery and Isabelle, are completely vulnerable and powerless when vindictive men decide to crush them. I found this very depressing, although there were several decent men in Baileyville. I enjoyed the book but questioned the resolution because I was not convinced that Baileyville was big enough for Alice, Margery and the Van Cleaves.
Source: Copy provided by the publisher for review purposes. This is book nine in my 20 Books of Summer.   
This is also my seventeenth book in the 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader
I know this was a popular book; my mother's book group chose it two years ago although they usually read more serious fiction - did you read it?


Anonymous said...

I suggest that all who have read Giver of Stars also read The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson, published in May 2019. Both books deal with the pack horse librarians and fold in issues like abuse of women by men. I live in the American South, although in the Ozarks rather than Appalachia, and I tend to think that Bookwoman does a better job of capturing the culture of the area.

Jerri C

TracyK said...

I haven't read anything by Jojo Moyes but I like the sound of this story. Maybe someday I will try one of her books.

Cath said...

I haven't read anything by Moyes either but I do have this one on my tbr pile as you know and will get to it eventually. I actually like the sound of The Ship of Brides so will see if I can grab a copy of that. I'm not having a chance to read much at the moment as my grand-daughter is staying with for the week. Turns out her new(ish) boyfriend and his parents are keen readers, I told her to hang on to him! LOL

CLM said...

Looking back at her other books, I am not sure any made enough of an impression to justify my having hunted them down (now that she is a bestseller, I think her backlist has all been published in the US). This seems to be the one I rated highest. However, one reason I like them is that they are not cookie cutters of each other. Even authors I like such as Nora Roberts or Katie Fforde are basically just writing the same book each time. And that is probably what they editors and readers want...

I will definitely hunt down The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek - I can only imagine how annoying it when for an author who thinks she has an original idea and then another book comes out and steals your thunder! My friend Laura wrote a book about Abe Fortas and someone else wrote one at the same time that got much more review attention (and, doubtless, better sales) and I felt so bad for her.

Tracy, Moyes might be a good author to listen to while gardening or walking. Do you have the Libby app?

Cath, is this the scientist granddaughter? A boyfriend who reads definitely sounds worth keeping! The Waterstones in Swansea has a very funny twitter account; makes me want to visit!

Ellen Ruffin said...

I listened to this one during the early pandemic and found it to be an engrossing story for my walks. I was not familiar with the author. Great job describing this. Thank you!

Tina said...

Your description of The Ship of Brides interests me, this is an author I’ve never read yet I see her name & books mentioned frequently.
Nice review.

Tina @ Turn the Page visiting you from The intrepid Reader 😊

Davida Chazan (The Chocolate Lady) said...

What Jerri C said above. Also, I'm convinced that Moyes stole parts of Richardson's book for hers. Moyes never wrote historical fiction before this, only romance. And there's the opening scene in Moyes' book that is almost word for word a copy of a similar scene in Richardson's - about an attempted rape. That's not using the same historical facts, that's plagiarism!