Alice Wright marries handsome American Bennett Van Cleve hoping to escape her stifling life in England. But small-town Kentucky quickly proves equally claustrophobic, especially living alongside her overbearing father-in-law. So, when a call goes out for a team of women to deliver books as part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s new traveling library, Alice signs on enthusiastically.
The leader, and soon Alice’s greatest ally, is Margery, a smart-talking, self-sufficient woman who’s never asked a man’s permission for anything. They will be joined by three other singular women who become known as the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky.
What happens to them – and to the men they love – becomes an unforgettable drama of loyalty, justice, humanity, and passion. These heroic women refuse to be cowed by men or by convention. And though they face all kinds of dangers in a landscape that is at times breathtakingly beautiful, at others brutal, they’re committed to their job: Bringing books to people who have never had any, arming them with facts that will change their lives.
Based on a true story rooted in America’s past, The Giver of Stars is unparalleled in its scope and epic in its storytelling. Funny, heartbreaking, enthralling, it is destined to become a modern classic – a richly rewarding novel of women’s friendship, of true love, and of what happens when we reach beyond our grasp for the great beyond.
Well, add me to the list of those who read The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek (by Kim Michele Richardson) prior to The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes. Richardson’s book was first. Jojo Moyes is a NY Times bestselling author and a Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine Book Club (of the month) pick. It was also chosen to be one of “USA Today’s top 100 books to read while stuck at home social distancing.” A London author of this magnitude would not have to plagiarize anything, but that’s been the controversy since the Moyes book was published…and now set to be a major motion picture. ?!
I wrote my review of The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek after I tried to join a local library book club in February, 2020. They discussed many of the similarities during the meeting. When I saw this audiobook become available, I had to check it out.
I loved that first book for several reasons:
- It was my introduction to the 1930’s Pack Horse Library Project in Kentucky and as such a historical fiction—you know I have an affinity for those.
- It introduced me to the “Blue-skinned people” of Kentucky and that was quite the revelation.
- Intensely immersive into the times, the people, and the mountains of Kentucky.
- The hopeless stories of the desperately poverty-stricken (Depression era) people, living so isolated the only people they might see was the pack horse librarian.
- They received old newspapers, magazines, outdated books from other libraries, and homemade journals gleaned from other mountain folk of recipes, patterns, hints, and wise sayings or poems.
- A coal mining state, many miners died of black lung disease and the despairing living conditions of their families, lack of sanitary conditions, health care, and food.
- Heavily character-driven storyline.
- Many issues including political, societal, religious, domestic abuse, women working (gasp!) outside of the home (which really doesn’t widely occur in this country until WWII), and racism.
The main character of Troublesome Creek is Cussy (a blue-skinned woman). One of the two main characters of The Giver of Stars is an English woman, Alice Wright, crazy to leave her London home and stifling parents for an exciting new life. But the new life in the backwoods of Kentucky is not the life she imagined, and her groom, not the man. In fact, it is her father-in-law who is head-of-household and he’s old school in a staunchly patriarchal society. In an effort to make contact with the other women of the area, she jumps at the chance to become a part of the pack horse program. There, she meets the co-protagonist, independent minded and outspoken Margery O’Hare.
The men (and many of the women) are against the program, thinking it’ll put thoughts in the heads of the women, up until now kept “barefoot and pregnant” as they used to say. Also being in the Bible Belt of America, strict religious tenets played a strong part in defining a woman’s role and the participants distributing books were thought scandalous.
Am I largely repeating my review of The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek? Yes, and it would appear to a large extent the storyline of this book as well. Most of the above are included albeit rewritten to more closely match the author’s writing style. The shunned blue woman now the shunned English woman. But fans and readers of author Jojo Moyes (there must be some romance) will find their expectation granted. This book, however, doesn’t describe the recipients of the program and their circumstances to the extent of the former, which I missed.
- A greater explanation of the “company store” and the castigation of the owners.
- The unfortunate division of the races, their roles, and living circumstances.
- The sisterhood of the widely differing women of the pack horse program.
- Descriptions of the mountains and remarkable heroism.
- The murder, jail account, and courtroom drama.
- Nicely done conclusion pulling not one but two rabbits out of the hat. Loved the first; not crazy about the second although at that point you had to figure it would happen.
Does all the drama over-shadow the story of the pack horse librarians? To a large extent, it does, and many of the support characters remain one-dimensional. Yes, I enjoyed a second take of the story of those courageous women, this one done in a strongly Jojo-esque style of drama and romance. But I still prefer the emotional impact, the prose, and the immediately engaging narrative written by author Kim Michele Richardson.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Listening Length: 13 hrs., 52 mins.
Narrator: Julia Whelan
Publication Date: October 8, 2019
Source: Local Library (Audiobook Selections)
Title Link: The Giver of Stars [Amazon]
Rosepoint Publishing: Four of Five Stars
The Author: Jojo Moyes is a British novelist.
Moyes studied at Royal Holloway, University of London. She won a bursary financed by The Independent newspaper to study journalism at City University and subsequently worked for The Independent for 10 years. In 2001 she became a full time novelist.
Moyes’ novel Foreign Fruit won the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) Romantic Novel of the Year in 2004.
She is married to journalist Charles Arthur and has three children.
Bio from Goodreads.
The Narrator: Julia Whelan is an actor, writer, and narrator of over 400 audiobooks. Recently named one of AudioFile magazine’s Golden Voices, she has won numerous other awards, including the 2019 Best Female Narrator Audie for Tara Westover’s Educated and a SOVAS for the performance of her own novel, My Oxford Year. She is also a Grammy-nominated audiobook director as well as a certified tea sommelier. [Penguin Random House Audiobooks]
©2020 V Williams