By Jojo Moyes, A charming and light historical fiction novel about the Pack Horse Librarians of Appalachia in the 1930s
The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes is the author’s latest work and a book rooted in a little known piece of Great Depression-era history. Moyes is most well known for Me Before You, which became a movie starring Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin.
I wasn’t a fan of Me Before You (found it a bit wealth-obsessed), but I thought I might have better luck with her historical fiction offering, The Giver of Stars. It was also chosen as Reese’s Book Club pick for November.
Also see the Full Plot Synopsis & Summary for The Giver of Stars (spoilers). For the spoiler-free version:
Based on a program that was instituted by Eleanor Roosevelt in the mid-1930s, The Giver of Stars is about a group of women that begin a traveling library that delivers books to the rural areas of the town on horseback.
These so-called Pack Horse Librarians must overcome a number of obstacles on their way to bringing literacy to the masses, but they do so and tackle these challenges together. It’s a tale of love, friendship and of course books.
See The Giver of Stars on Amazon.
The Giver of Stars is a relaxing and pleasurable read about friendship, love and a love of books. The story is inspired by the real-life packhorse librarians, which was a program that involved around 30 libraries in Appalachia that was administered under First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt from the mid-1930s through the mid-1940s. The book also delves into the mining industry in that area and how that impacted communities.
While the story is based on historic events, there’s an air of romanticism running through The Giver of Stars. When bad things happen to the characters, for the most part, it feels like a sanitized, more palatable version of events. There’s usually someone there to defend them or stand up for injustices. Even to the extent it veers into issues of sexism or racism, it does so in a fairly safe way, staying within simpler black-and-white boundaries instead of dealing in the messy nuances of these issues.
As you might imagine, this is not a dark or gritty novel, but I appreciated that. It makes for a good book to unwind with and just enjoy the characters and the small-town charm of the book.
The historic context does a lot of the groundwork in providing some substance to the story, and the period details add a lot of color and atmosphere to the novel as well. And Moyes does a great job of shaping it into an engaging, well-paced narrative with believable plot developments. It hits a lot of familiar dramatic beats as other books, but still manages to feel relatively fresh.
I also liked Jojo Moyes’s writing. It’s unselfconscious and straightforward. She lets the story speak for itself, and it never feels forced or dull. She manages to infuse plenty of personality and character into places and people through specific details or dialogue, instead of relying on overlong descriptions.
Copyright and Plagiarism Controversy
So, I put off reading this for a while due to the plagiarism controversy surrounding its release. I thought I should at least look into it before buying either book. The short version of this is that another book came out, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, where that author felt that some details from The Giver of Stars were suspiciously similar.
After looking over the details, I came to the conclusion that I felt comfortable reading The Giver of Stars. And after actually reading it, I feel like that was the right conclusion.
Ultimately, the overlaps that were cited are pretty minor aspects of the story or things where overlap makes sense, given that they are about the same period of history. I can understand why the other author would feel possessive over the topic, especially in a book released in a similar time-frame by a more well-known author, so I don’t judge her at all for feeling territorial. I also feel like some of the details really are weirdly similar.
But ultimately the meaningful similarity is the topic, and you can’t claim ownership over a topic like that. To frame this in a different way, if the topics were different, would anyone even look twice at those similarities in minor details of two books?
Either way, I encourage you to look over the allegations and judge for yourself.
The Giver of Stars Movie Adaptation
The film rights were acquired and a director for the movie adaptation, Ol Parker, was announced, all months before the book was even released. For all the details, see Everything We Know about the Giver of Stars Movie Adaptation.
Read it or Skip it?
The Giver of Stars is a pleasure read about books, love and friendship that’s rooted in a lesser-known piece of history. It’s an unchallenging, accessible book with no pretensions that’s enjoyable and hopeful.
I really liked reading this. There are so many recent releases that have been tedious, needlessly long, or just very serious or dark, so I found this to be a lovely departure from all that. It’s capably written and tells a charming, engaging story about small-town drama. I think the worst thing you could say is that it’s somewhat of a “safe” and slightly romanticized story, but it never veers into being cheesy or melodramatic, so that didn’t bother me at all.
I’d happily recommend this to anyone looking for a quick and pleasant read with a sort of “awww, shucks” kind of charm. If you’ve been in a reading slump, this could be a great contender for a fast read to help pull you out of it and to remind you of why reading is fun!
Also, if your book club has been feeling bogged down by 500+ page tomes or really literary works, this could be a great change of pace. It’s got some substance to make it feel worthwhile, but still comes off as a light and pleasurable read.
See The Giver of Stars on Amazon.
Detailed Book Summary (Spoilers)
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