Sally Flint

Book Review on JoJo Moyes' The Giver of Stars

What a dreamy environment for a librarian to work in! I would love to be the recipient and Giver of Stars!

Set in the Appalachian Mountains, Alice Wright leaves behind the humdrum of small town life in England by marrying handsome Bennet Van Cleve and moving to Baileyville, Kentucky. Life is quick to disappoint, and Alice seems as trapped as she’d ever been.

Bennett seems content to share their honeymoon cabin, with his ever-present vile father, and once at home becomes distant and aloof, unable or unchoosing of intimacy. The ‘special book’ kept hidden in the library had no effect in solving Bennett’s problems! 

Upon arrival in Baileyville, Alice is treated with caution and suspicion by the locals; women her own age feel she has stolen Bennett from them as a potential suitor. There’s no wonder then, that Alice jumps at the chance to join Margery O’Hare, a strong, independent woman, as a travelling librarian. This gives Bennett’s father further fuel to disapprove of Alice as Margery, Alice learns, is of a disreputable family going back generations. In addition, Margery is unwilling to conform to societal expectations or to be the expected submissive female and wife. The judgemental Van Cleve’s are inevitably going to disapprove.

An unlikely friendship is formed between Alice and Margery. As the events of the story unfold they learn to support each other and women across Kentucky. Sisterhood prevails as the librarians grow in numbers, strength and commitment to their role, each another and their values. 

The novel begins with a single chapter outlining a key event that occurs three months from the beginning of the story proper. It is this event around which the whole story, The Giver of Stars,  is based as we explore weath, class, hardship, abuse and feminism.

Hefty themes are presented with the lightest of touches, Marriage, abuse and of course romance! The story is funny yet sad; full of warmth whilst exposing cruelty. Above all it is a great page-turner.

Book Club Questions on JoJo Moyes' The Giver of Stars

  • JoJo Moyes completed research for The Giver of Stars story by visiting Kentucky and riding the trails by horse. How convincing did you find her portrayal of people living out in the countryside? Did anything shock you?
  • Alice isn’t looking forward to going back to England, but for a while sees no alternative. Did she fall in love with her new home or just with Fred?
  • What events in The Giver of Stars make you realise that it is set in 1930s Kentucky, rather than in the present day?
  • Who was your favourite of the Packhorse librarians and why? Which do you most identify with and why? Do you think any of the librarians remind you of anyone else in the bookclub?
  • Did you think that any of the Packhorse librarians made mistakes? If so what were they? What could they have done differently?
  • How is the issue of class inequality explored in the novel The Giver of Stars?
  • How would you sum up Margery’s character? Do you think she did the right thing in getting married?
  • JoJo Moyes is sometimes accused of being ‘easy chic-lit’ reading. Do you agree? Discuss.
  • There is a lot of violence in the book. Alice has an overbearing, abusive father-in-law. Margery was brought up in fear of her own father. Sarah’s husband was murdered simply for being black. Is it possible to say that The Giver of Stars is a hopeful book?
  • JoJo Moyes shows, rather than tells us some of the consequences of segregation through the inclusion of Sarah’s character. Do you think her exploration of racism was well executed?  
  • Many of the characters lives seemed changed through the power of books. Did you find this completely believable or do you think it was somewhat idealised?

Book Club Questions on JoJo Moyes' The Giver of Stars (If you haven't read the book!)

  • Alice’s life in the Appalachians couldn’t be more different to her life in England. Have you ever moved to somewhere completely unfamiliar? Did you find settling in difficult?
  • There are several examples in the story where the Packhorse librarians have to be brave. Are you a brave person?
  • The book is named after this Amy Lovell poem which Fred reads to Alice. Discuss the poem. Do you enjoy reading poetry? Why or why not?

The Giver of Stars
Hold your soul open for my welcoming.
Let the quiet of your spirit bathe me
With its clear and rippled coolness,
That, loose-limbed and weary, I find rest,
Outstretched upon your peace, as on a bed of ivory.
Let the flickering flame of your soul play all about me,
That into my limbs may come the keenness of fire,
The life and joy of tongues of flame,
And, going out from you, tightly strung and in tune,
I may rouse the blear-eyed world,
And pour into it the beauty which you have begotten.
Amy Lowell – 1874-1925

I was thrilled to learn that JoJo Moyes has her own website. She looks a great person to chat with.

Personal Response to JoJo Moyes' The Giver of Stars

particularly enjoyed The Giver of Stars because, for many years, I was a librarian and continue to work as a library consultant. It is a book that I’d definitely like to add to my collection of first editionsI’m ever optimistic that my husband might go hunting on Amazon / Abebooks / whatever and decide to treat me to some more scrumptious books!

The idea of taking to the trails and making a difference to people’s lives struck me as so romantic! Of course, being faced with an aggressive drunk a little less so! I had to smile though that it was the book Little Women that was presented as a murder weapon! Less of the little! You can’t go far wrong with JoJo Moyes if you want some escapism and a well-written book. I’ve no doubt that if E. Roosevelt was here today, she would be proud of this fictionalized of her real-life introduction of Packhorse librarians. 
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