Powerful, historical, and intentional. The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes is a novel that made me gasp, cry, and feel hopeful. Published in 2019, the historical fiction novel is one everyone should read. Outstanding examples of feminism, heartwarming character development, and meticulous intentionality behind every word written are just three reasons why “The Giver of Stars” should be added to your TBR (to be read) list.
Admittedly, the novel took me quite some time to work through (mostly because I was having reader’s block); however, I am thankful for my slow pace. In the month of October, American feminist icon, Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, ultimately putting many American’s human rights into question. Moreover, this previous weekend, Kamala Harris was announced as the Amerian Vice President-Elect. She is the first woman to be elected as the Vice President of the United States. Finishing The Giver of Stars with these current events in mind, created a whole new meaning to the book for me and aided in great respect for the main women characters, who they represented in history, and how they helped pave the path for extraordinary women like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Kamala Harris.
Brief Summary of the Novel
The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes is a historical fiction novel based in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky and a town called Baileyville during the mid 1930s. The main character Alice, an English woman, marries Bennett Van Cleve and moves with Bennett into his childhood home with Bennett’s father in Baileyville. Excited for a big city and the adventures of an American life, Alice is sorely disappointed. That is, until she joins the Kentucky Pack Horse Librarians, a program created by first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. As a librarian, Alice learns the rugged life of Appalachia and the souls of the people who live in the uppermost regions. She gets to know Margery a character who teaches Alice about how to be brave and independent as a woman in Baileyville. As readers we see Alice find her personality and develop tremendously. Overall, this story is about friendship, independence, bravery, the heart of Appalachia, and the power behind literature.
Why it Should Be Your Next Read
Moyes’ novel examines the mid 1930s rural Kentucky through a distinctly feminist lens, in the plot line she develops, her main characters, and simply the area and topic she chose to base the novel around. Themes like sexual expression and independence are repeated throughout. As readers, we get the opportunity to see all points of view on these subjects and how they impact the rural Kentucky women. However, because one of the main characters is from Britain, Moyes used this as an opportunity to express both women’s issues extend outside of Kentucky and the U.S. as a whole.
Moreover, the general concept of Eleanor Roosevelt’s WPA Pack Horse library program is feminist for the time, because it is striving to create access to educational materials for all people. It sends a powerful message having all women in charge of the library considering at the time women were not encouraged and in some cases like Baileyville, Kentucky were largely blocked from reading.
Another feminist theme throughout the novel is sisterhood. The Packhorse Librarians of Baileyville, Kentucky all come from unique backgrounds and possess individual personalities. As the novel progress’ readers see the women become closer and learn the lesson: we are stronger together.
In addition to feminist themes, Jojo Moyes writes with intention in The Giver of Stars. Each line is teeming with meaning like many writers; however, Moyes ventures further. SPOILER ALERT. Near the beginning of the novel when Moyes introduces the theme of sexual expression she also copies in the poem “Giver of Stars” by Amy Lowell. Poetry is then weaved throughout the remainder of the novel, specifically in sections that discuss sexual expression and/or romance. On par with poetry being extra literary content mingled with her own writing, Moyes also includes relevant quotes from various pieces of literature (from the WPA Guide to Kentucky to Little Women by Louisa May Alcott) at the beginning of most chapters. The quotes each have their own purpose. Some act as time period references, others, as nods of respect to great literarians. For instance, in the beginning of a chapter that discusses Margery’s beliefs around marriage, the epigraph is: “…marriage they say, halves one’s rights and doubles one’s duties.” -Louisa May Alcott, Little Women.
Hold your horses because there’s more! Jojo Moyes created extraordinary characters for The Giver of Stars. The main women characters offer original personalities in the beginning. Throughout the novel we see Alice, go from a lost and prim English woman to an outspoken, brave, and determined individual. Margery, learns to grow her personality to include thoughtfulness of other’s emotions alongside her original quick tongue and strongwill. Moyes even goes so far as to show minor characters like Bennett Van Cleve progress by making the mine more ethical against his father’s judgement.
The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes is more than worth your time. It is a novel that carries themes heavy with thought and emotion but you will all be happy to know it has a happy ending with a touch of wit that will make you giggle. Her characters, specifically the librarians, are crafted with great care and depth. Each woman has a rounded personality that can connect to readers. As a reader you may identify with the wanderlust of Beth, the pure kindness and thoughtfulness of Izzy, the bravery and meticulous nature of Sophia, the nurturing and passionate fire of Margery, or the new-found strength and independence of Alice. This novel may remind you of the significance of friendship or the profound power of books, but it will absolutely remind you of the hard work of all the women behind us and gift you feelings of hope for all people.
My heart goes out to you all.
We are living in a pandemic and life is not easy; pandemic or not…life is not easy. Some days, I find it is necessary to just let myself feel. Let myself feel loss and feel pain, but it is also necessary to take some time to feel sunshine. There is still beauty in this world.
Sending you all feelings of happiness and coziness.
Trigger Warning for The Giver of Stars: there is a scene of domestic violence near the middle of the book that may be mentally harmful to some readers.