When I read in the book blurb that ‘The Giver of Stars’ from Jojo Moyes is based on the Horseback Librarians, I knew that I had to read it. A book about books and librarians- what else a booklover needs! This brilliant epic historical fiction set in the US Depression era in Kentucky draws on actual history. The book is based on the 1930’s Horseback Librarians program in Kentucky which was started by US President Eleanor Roosevelt. The purpose was to educate and enrich the lives of the people who lived in the hills in the countryside of Kentucky by providing them books. The program was run by women librarians who would ride horses laden with books, often in rough weather, to reach the families living in the mountains.
Baileyville, Kentucky introduces the Horseback Librarians Program which is headed by Margery O’Hare. She is a fiercely independent woman who has lived in these mountains since childhood and is well versed with the routes up the mountains. Alice is a newly arrived English woman, who has come to Kentucky with her husband Bennett, son of a wealthy, cunning mine owner Van Cleve who is more interested in making money than the safety of the miners. Izzy is the polio stricken daughter of an established, well to do family who is forced by her mother to volunteer for the program. Beth is the local farmer’s daughter who is quite brash and carefree. Sophia, the experienced black librarian soon joins them and helps in the upkeep of the library. Later they are joined by Kathleen whose dying husband found solace in the books these women brought to her home.
Though some people welcome the idea of the library but there are many in the town with a prejudice against working women and feel that these horseback librarians are a bad influence. Then there are people like Mr. Van Cleve who sees them as a potential threat to the established social and economic order. Margery O’Hare is raising awareness against the exploitation of the mine workers and this doesn’t go well with Van Cleve. With the rise of implacable resistance, Margery O’Hare soon finds herself being behind the bars after being accused of murder.
The book is quite an engaging read. The story moves forward at a good pace and the prose flows beautifully. The characters are interesting and well developed. The story is full of details with rich descriptions of this historical era. It acquaints the readers with the social norms and expectations of the era. The beauty of the plot is enhanced by its setting- mountains and its wilderness. Jojo Moyes has dealt with the issues of racism, misogyny, class and exploitation which are relevant even today.
But what I like the most about the book is that it focuses on the power of books and how books can be instrumental in bringing a positive change in people. It serves as a reminder of the impact that books can make in shaping our world. I recommend this book to anyone who loves books and can’t imagine a world without books.
Title: The Giver of Stars
Author: Jojo Moyes
Genres: Romance, Historical Fiction
Originally published: 3 October 2019
Page Count: 400
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
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