By Katie Neal
The Giver of Stars, by JoJo Moyes, tells the story of Alice Wright, an aristocratic English girl who moves to a rural coal-mining town in Kentucky in 1936 after marrying Bennett Van Cleve, a handsome young American who swept her off her feet while traveling in Europe with his father.
But marriage and life in Kentucky turn out to be not quite what Alice expected, and, when Alice becomes desperate to escape her unhappy marriage and her cruel father-in-law, she finds support and companionship in Margery O’Hare, the black sheep of the town and the last surviving member of a family of outcasts. Struggling to find her place in a rural culture that is foreign to her, Alice joins Margery in forming the local branch of the Pack Horse Library, a program started by the Works Progress Administration that operated in the remote areas of the Appalachian Mountains from 1935 to 1943. Alice and the other librarians rode mules and horses in all manner of weather and difficult terrain to provide some of the poorest residents with reading opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have had.
Alice comes to love her work, and things go smoothly for the Library until Margery finds herself the target of a cruel man with unsavory intentions. The result of that encounter isn’t uncovered until a number of months later, when Margery is accused of his murder. Alice and the other women of the Pack Horse Library band together to support Margery, who in addition to facing the murder charge is also facing an unexpected challenge in her personal life.
The historical setting, vivid details, and an interesting cast of small-town characters make this story come alive, and several interwoven plot lines pull the reader along. Will Alice ever feel like she belongs in Baileyville, or will she return to England? Will the little library survive? Will Margery get out of jail? Will Alice find love again?