Jojo Moyes’ The Giver of Stars: More than just a romantic novel

Jojo Moyes’, The Giver of Stars explores the history of an important project created in Kentucky during the 1930s. (Image source: Atlas Obscura/Kentucky Library and Archives).

By Eva Blandis | @BlandisEva

In the wake of the depression, remote parts of Kentucky were suffering as working in the mines became a way of life, and literature and education were forgotten.

The federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) initiated a remote library that spread books throughout the Appalachian region of Kentucky.

The Giver of Stars is a fictional account of how the women involved, in the Packhorse Library Project, made it their priority to spread literature throughout the state for the benefit of children going without education.

Moyes’ story follows the life of Alice Van Cleve, who recently moved from England to live with her American husband, Bennett. Alice’s dream of high society New York is crushed as she begins to adapt to life in Kentucky. Alice soon grows unhappy in her marriage but finds solace in the friendships she makes at the library.

Four packhorse librarians before they head out for the day. (Image source: Smithsonian Magazine/Kentucky Digital Library).

Although The Giver of Stars is a fictional account of the Packhorse Library Project, the novel showcases the opportunities that it had for women and all those who lived in remote areas.

According to Smithsonian Magazine writer Eliza McGraw, “In 1930, up to 31 percent of people in eastern Kentucky couldn’t read [and] in 1936, packhorse librarians served 50,000 families, and, by 1937, 155 public schools.”

The Packhorse Library Project had immense benefits for those living in remote areas and reintroduced the opportunity for children and adults to be educated about the wider world. The project was forward-thinking as it aimed to provide women with employment.

United States Air Force historian Dr Donald C. Boyd wrote that the program “[also] intended … to provide employment for women”.

A packhorse librarian on her way back from delivering books. (Image source: Smithsonian Magazine/Kentucky Digital Library).

Although the program was initially unwelcomed in certain parts of Kentucky, the benefits soon became apparent.

“The packhorse librarians not only became part of daily life in the mountains but also gained acceptance into what was otherwise an unapproachable culture of rugged individualism and abject distrust,” Dr Boyd wrote.

The great divide between those located in the town, and those living in more remote areas is of great focus in Moyes’ book. Throughout the narrative, The Giver of Stars shows the appreciation that those living in remote areas began to have for the librarians.

Packhorse librarian visiting a gunshot victim. (Image source: Smithsonian Magazine/Kentucky Digital Library).

Moyes’ novel is a story of courage, but it also explores the importance of working collectively to improve the place you live to make it fair for everyone.

“In the fifty years prior to the depression, Appalachia experienced significant social and economic changes,” wrote Boyd.

As those living in remote areas became more isolated from wider societies, there was a decrease in education and knowledge of the outside world.

The success of the Packhorse Library project not only shows the importance of reading but the need for literature in society.

 It’s success was “the result of two important developments in twentieth-century Appalachia,” according to Dr Boyd.

“First, the value of literacy among mountain folk rose as industrialisation, and a capitalistic labour system replaced the traditional subsistence [lifestyle of the region].

“Second, library extension efforts had emerged as an accepted part of Appalachian culture by the onset of the depression.”

Literacy is one of the most important gifts that a person can have. Not only does reading provide knowledge, but it also provides entertainment and opens a world of possibilities.

Moyes’, The Giver of Stars perfectly encompasses the importance of reading and the vital role that the Packhorse librarians had in a society that was tainted by its country’s financial depression.

Moyes perfectly articulates the hardship of forbidden love and retells history in an entertaining and insightful way. Anyone who enjoys a novel filled with romance, suspense and history, will enjoy The Giver of Stars and have a new founded appreciation for the women who worked hard to spread literature through the remote parts of Kentucky.

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