Basically, this is a love letter to librarians, so I was definitely in. Moyes tells the story of the pack horse librarians of the Depression through a set of brave and likable female protagonists. Alice married Bennett Van Cleve after whirlwind courtship in her native England while he was on holiday, only to come down to earth in rural Kentucky where she and her husband still live with her domineering father-in-law. Margery O’Hare is a strong-willed woman with a mind of her own during a time when that quality is not universally admired. (Has it ever been?) Izzie has suffered from polio and the social difficulties produced by it. Sophia is a highly educated African American woman whose brother was wounded in a recent mining accident. She has trouble fitting in anywhere, but the library provides her peace and purpose. Coal is king, and the Van Cleves own the mines. Alice doesn’t realize until most of the way through the novel that her family is literally living on the back-breaking work of the poor families in town.
The Giver of Stars touches on many issues which are still relevant without being heavy-handed. The characters are warm and complex–even the villains. There are some unexpected turns, both good and not so good. Happily, as most librarians would wish, knowledge and enlightenment triumph over ignorance and venom.
This would make a good discussion for book clubs. Here are some questions to consider:
- Which of the four librarians do you identify most with? Why?
- Did you guess the departed Mrs. Van Cleve’s true plight before it was revealed? What were the clues, either looking back after you knew or that tipped you off?
- What would you say is the theme of the novel? What supports this idea?
- Who do you think the “Giver of Stars” in the title is?
- Why do you think the pack horse library program came to an end? What are some modern equivalents to the idea?
- Put yourself in 1935 Kentucky. Would you have volunteered to be a librarian given the risks involved? Why or why not?