When I saw this one available on Netgalley, how could I resist? I’ve never not enjoyed her books, while One Plus One and Me Before You got solid tens from me, and I still find myself thinking about the issues raised in The Girl You Left Behind. Would this one live up to that dazzlingly high standard?
BLURB: Alice Wright marries handsome American Bennett Van Cleve hoping to escape her stifling life in England. But small-town Kentucky quickly proves equally claustrophobic, especially living alongside her overbearing father-in-law. So when a call goes out for a team of women to deliver books as part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s new traveling library, Alice signs on enthusiastically. The leader, and soon Alice’s greatest ally, is Margery, a smart-talking, self-sufficient woman who’s never asked a man’s permission for anything. They will be joined by three other singular women who become known as the Horseback Librarians of Kentucky.
There were actually Horseback Librarians of Kentucky, which was a mid-Depression drive by the US Government to try and lift some of the most isolated and deprived families out of the grinding poverty they were experiencing by giving them free access to books. And a group of courageous women volunteered to deliver these by horseback all over the Appalachians. Moyes extensively researched this book by visiting the area and I think it shines through the writing, as her descriptions are a joy.
She weaves an engrossing story in amongst these facts, highlighting the social inequalities and injustices of the time – something she’s a dab hand at doing without appearing to preach in any way. I expected the layered characterisation of her main protagonists and the fact we get to see their vulnerabilities as well as their strengths and though I don’t know the area, I was convinced by the setting. The attitude to women and Afro-Americans certainly seemed horribly realistic. I’d also expected a page-turning story full of tension and high stakes – and Moyes delivered on that, as well.
So why a 9 and not a 10? Because I felt the main antagonist lacked a certain amount of depth. While I loved to hate him, I wanted Moyes to get under his skin just a little bit more so that he was as fully developed as the main protagonists. It would have given the story just that extra emotional heft I know she is capable of. That said, it is a quibble – this is a wonderful, engrossing read I stayed up far too late to finish and highly recommend to anyone fond of reading historical adventures set in the last century.
The ebook arc copy of The Giver of Stars was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.