It’s interesting where our choices take us. We set out on a grand adventure filled with the best of intentions, and an excitement for what is new and yet to be discovered. We envision the story to come. Its characters are laid out clearly before us. Perhaps it’s a sweeping romance. Yes. That’s it. A dashing American gentleman rescues a beautiful English maiden from her cloistered upper-class life. A relationship built on brief encounters and a transatlantic journey by sea. Love, or what we believe to be love, blooms. No nuance. No discussion of likes and dislikes. No conflict. That would only complicate matters. It’s the happy ending we want after all, isn’t it? And that happy ending appears just within reach. But then, Reality (also known as, the hardest of truths) enters stage right, and promptly pulls the rug from underneath the whole production. The artifice revealed, we’re left stricken. The light begins to dim on this story. But it never entirely goes out. Its dampened glow, a reminder that life goes on. There are more stories to be written. And endless pools of illumination.
In The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes, the main character, Mrs. Alice Van Cleve (nee Wright), finds herself “reality-struck.” Her marriage to a wealthy American saves her from an unhappy existence with cold, ineffectual parents in England. Yet her new life in 1930s small-town Kentucky is posing its own set of challenges. Alice wants to be a good wife, but the pressures are immense. She’s forced to deal with a frighteningly overbearing father-in-law. Much of the town looks upon her “foreignness” as something strange and suspicious. The state of her marriage is a source of fodder for the local residents. And to make matters worse, her uncommunicative and inexperienced husband, Bennet, appears to enjoy spending most of his time away from her. In an effort to take her mind off of the stresses at home, Alice decides to become a part of a traveling library, commissioned by former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, under the WPA (the Works Progress Administration). Through her involvement with the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky, Alice forges deep friendships and finds acceptance.
Love stories can take on many forms. And The Giver of Stars offers a measure of what would be deemed traditional romance. But the heart of the story lies in the relationship that develops between the women who work for the library. It’s a love story in the truest sense. Each librarian brings to the story her distinct personality: Alice, curious and ever-searching. Margery, iron-willed and confident. Beth, sharp-tongued yet loyal. Izzy, sheltered and deeply sensitive. Sophia, graceful and intuitive. They complement and empower each other in myriad ways.
Beautifully written, and clearly well-researched, The Giver of Stars presents the complicated nature of American culture and history. It illustrates moments of humanity at its best. Small town folks sticking together, and helping each other during times of crisis. However, Moyes does not shy away from pressing topics such as racism, segregation, classism, and gender inequality. And I would be remiss if I did not mention trigger warnings, as there are scenes containing domestic violence and animal abuse.
In her descriptions of the Appalachian landscape; from the mountain ridges to the hollers, to the shallow creeks that become raging rivers in heavy rainfall, there’s respect shown for Nature. Its ability to render absolute beauty while also maintaining an undercurrent of hidden danger. Moyes captures this with startling skill.
I highly recommend The Giver of Stars. A wonderfully crafted story combining history, geography, social commentary, politics, and at its center, friendship and love. It’s hard not to like a novel about librarians.
Admittedly, I’m a little late to this particular title, as I believe it was released a few years ago. To be honest, I’m a little late when it comes to Jojo Moyes in general. I’ve only read one other title by her, One Plus One, which I also thoroughly enjoyed. Note to self: include more Jojo Moyes selections on my TBR list.
Be well, my fellow bibliophiles! More reviews coming soon.
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