Publication Info: Published Oct 8, 2019 by Pamela Dorman Books. Hardcover edition courtesy of my local library. Other editions available.
Summary: Alice Wright leaps at the opportunity to escaped her stilted life in England by marrying a handsome American. Handsome, wealthy Bennett Van Cleve wooed her with kisses and promises, leading Alice to dream of a glittering life of restaurants, theaters and New York. But Bennett brought his wife to Baileyville, Kentucky, a mining town nestled in the Appalachian Mountains.
Alice, initially disappointed, determines to make the most of her situation, but her hard hearted, domineering father-in-law and her completely sexless marriage with Bennett throws her into despair. Surrounded by useless trinkets and the enshrined memories of her deceased mother-in-law, Alice has no control over her home or her life.
At a town meeting Alice hears about the WPA sponsored Packhorse Library, promoted by Eleanor Roosevelt. Despite the disapproval of her father-in-law and husband, Alice volunteers to deliver library books to the people in remote areas near Baileyville. Headed by a strong-willed, independent woman named Marjory, the library becomes more than a job for Alice. By forging bonds with Marjory and the other women working at the library, Alice finds the inner strength to change her life — and the lives of the people she meets.
Comments: I’ve read a lot of excellent books this year, but none that have felt so deeply personal. The Giver of Stars is based on the true story of the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky, a real WPA project that began in the mid 1930’s. Shortly after the project ended, bookmobiles sprang up to deliver books to people in remote areas. The project not only promoted literacy, it gave remote people contact with new ideas and other people. The job also changed the lives of the librarians.
I can make that final, bold statement because I am proud to have held a more modern job pioneered historically by the Packhorse Librarians. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, I spent twelve years as part of a small team of library staff that delivered books to the home bound. Driving a van hundreds of miles each week, we delivered books to families in tenement apartments and rural shacks. Our patrons included those who were bedridden in fine homes overlooking the Chesapeake Bay and those for whom our monthly visit was the only bright spot in their lives.
At the time I was doing this job assignment, my personal life was a mess with an abusive, drug addicted (first) husband and two young children. There were days I could barely keep my head on straight. Yet, seeing these people, giving them a few minutes of human contact while delivering books, magazines and audio materials, had the most amazing effect – it lifted my spirits as well, giving me hope and strength.
The recipients of the books and the librarians in The Giver of Stars felt so real to me because I lived that life, fifty years later.
Highly recommended for readers of Historical Fiction, novels about rural America, as well as any book lover or librarian — especially those whose jobs included Community Outreach.
My Rating: 5 STARS +