I think of Jojo Moyes as a contemporary fiction author. So, The Giver of Stars surprised me since it’s solidly historical fiction. Of course, she does tell it through the eyes of a modern woman. The women at the heart of this book grapple with the same things we do today—marriage, sexuality, careers, discrimination, friendships. But they’re constrained by their times, which are the 1930s. And their place, which is rural Kentucky mining country outside Lexington.
Moyes introduces two main characters, Alice and Margery. Alice is English, but recently married the son of a local coal mine owner and moved to town. Adjusting to small-town life is a struggle, especially since everyone considers her an outsider.
Margery is also an outsider, although she’s native to Baileyville. Prior to his death, her father was a famous—and famously nasty—moonshiner. And everyone in town thinks she takes after him, even if she doesn’t.
Together, the two women form the core of a new endeavor in town. They are traveling librarians, riding horses throughout the nearby region to bring books to folks without regular access to town. The locals are alternately thrilled and suspicious. Because of course reading means learning, and that’s a threat to the men in charge.
Through it all, the women also form close bonds with each other. They support each other, share relationship woes, and then something unthinkable happens. Moyes works suspense into her character study, which definitely enhanced the story.
My F2F book group has one member whose books I generally like less. But this time her pick landed perfectly into my reading plans. Just when I needed something to balance a few heavier reads, Moyes handed me a well-written, absorbing tale. She doesn’t shy away from intensity, but on the whole, this is a medium-weight book.
I liked Alice and Margery, as well as the supporting players in their lives. The villain characters are suitably awful. And the realities of Depression Era rural life distract me from my own realities. And, oh my goodness, life was hard in those times.
During the story, Baileyville has a country music concert, a flood, unrest among the miners. Combined with the characters’ personal stories, the plot is packed with activity and uncertainty. Moyes paces well, easily switching back and forth between two types of content.
If you like historical fiction that lets you into the lives of strong women facing down challenges, give this one a try. I hope you like it as much as I did.
I’d pair this with Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild. Another option would be The Edge of Nowhere by C. H. Armstrong. Different time periods and writing styles, but all about life in rural America.