This is my first Moyes book. She’s also written bestsellers like Me Before You, After You, and Still Me. This book, The Giver of Stars, is a historical fiction set in the Kentucky Appalachian mountains. Alice Van Cleve is a newly married woman who has followed her husband to his home all the way from England. She left behind a comfortable albeit stuffy and constraining life for love and adventure in the hollers and mountains of Kentucky.
Her marriage ideals leave her wanting. Her husband is boring and uninterested in her. Her father-in-law, with whom they live, is a nasty misogynistic piece of work who owns the coal mine and keeps his dead wife’s dolls in the bedroom. Because Alice is not who his wife was, he sees her as unfit and tells her so. Alice struggles to find her place until she meets Margery O’Hare and becomes a part of the Packhorse Library.
I love reading a book about books or people who read, write, love books. Books have the ability to bring people together, to change lives, and I like experiencing that through a written characters. I’m also partial to Appalachian Mountain stories. (Let’s get this straight here and now: it’s ap-uh-la-chen. The AP and LA have short “a” sounds. If I could figure out how to type that on my laptop, I would.) My family has roots in the North Carolina and Tennessee parts of the range and I feel a kinship to their culture.
The Giver of Stars is good. It starts slowly even with a prologue meant to provide foreshadowing. It does, but it also sets a standard for the writing that Moyes does not continue into the first chapter. The pace slows down considerably and I think Moyes loses readers because of it. The prologue isn’t strong enough to keep some readers committed to the story.
I like the female characters, especially Alice and Margery. There are several female characters in this book, it being about a mostly women packhorse librarian staff, but I did find the character Beth to be extraneous. Her attitude is rough and her personality and skills rely on no one, which is interesting, but those attributes are already present in Margery. I forgot about Beth for awhile and then had to think about who she was and what role she played in the plot (not much of one).
The story is well-contrived and the plot and focus are opportunities to teach readers more about a culture that is beyond the stereotypes. Moyes does sprinkle mountain culture facts throughout the story, but I do wish there were more depth. I wish I had come away with a better understanding of the everyday struggles that produced the ingenuity of many mountain people.
I appreciated the influence the coal mine had over the people in the area. There’s a lot of truth to how the coal companies treated the miners, destroyed land, and overlooked the safety of workers. I felt like this was a weak thread in the story, though. Halfway through the book, the coal mine becomes more of a big deal, but then it just disappears much like the rest of the story. The second-half of the book goes too quickly. It’s like Moyes was just trying to tie up loose ends and get it out the door.
Moyes does romance so well. The relationships in this book are slow-blooming flowers. I enjoyed seeing the love and respect build over chapters for these characters, overcoming obstacles, and becoming full and open and living things. That said, the romance didn’t carry the rest of the story for me.
Even though this book felt rushed, Moyes is a good story-teller. She taps into female needs and longings creating characters that are relatable no matter the time period and for some, that will be enough.
* In this post, I address the controversy surrounding The Giver of Stars and another book about the Kentucky Packhorse Librarians, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson, that came out within months of Moyes’. I also review Richardson’s book and talk about why I enjoyed it more.