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[Review] The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

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I’m a great fan of Jo Jo Moyes, and was delighted to hear that she was coming to the Felixstowe Book festival at the end of June (now going online in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic). Her latest book - The Giver of Stars, was definitely on my reading list.

One thing Jojo Moyes does exceptionally well, is to narrate a cracking good tale, with characters that leap from the page, drawing you into the story from the very start.

The Giver of Stars is set in Kentucky in the Depression years. Alice has moved there from England, after a whirlwind marriage to the handsome and charming Bennet, son of the local mill owner. But her life in America is not the glamorous one she had envisaged. When the opportunity arises to become one of the county’s packhorse librarians, taking library books on horseback to isolated farms in the mountains, she leaps at the chance to join this band of pioneering women. Close friendships evolve, as her marriage falters.

It’s a story of courage and endeavour, hardship and endurance, as the women ride out each day to take books to those who need them most - books on child-care, cooking, health care, adventure, romance, and even (and this was the cause of much scandal at the time), sex education. There are various threads explored throughout the novel, including racism, and the place of women in the home, but it is the perfectly drawn characters that bring this story to life - from the hillbillly mountain men, to the strict church goers, and the bigoted townsfolk. Margary, the organiser of the pack horse librarians, is feisty and independent, but with a warm heart. She takes Alice under her wing, and it is a friendship that will endure, despite their differences.

This novel is beautifully written, with the landscape and the changing seasons all depicted so vividly that you can only imagine how much research has gone into this book. There’s also a growing romance, that leaves you guessing as to how things will work out. Definitely a feel good read, depicting an interesting chapter in American history. I certainly wanted to know more about the ‘packhorse librarians’ after finishing this book. One I would highly recommend, and I look forward to hearing the author talk about it at the end of June.

This review is by Morag Liffen from Woodbridge Library.