Book Review: Pack horse librarians spread the love of reading to many

The Giver of Stars, Jojo Moyes newest novel, takes us on a historical journey into the backwoods of Kentucky in the 1930’s. In this period, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt had began a horseback librarian program that would give remote inhabitants of the Appalachian Mountains access to library materials to increase their literacy. Often it was the women of Kentucky who stepped in to ride the horses and deliver the materials to the mountains, in all weather and across all terrain.

Our story takes place in Baileyville, Kentucky and follows the challenges of the courageous women who volunteer to take up the pack horse library work. Margery O’Hare heads the motley crew. She has lived in the mountains her whole life, knowing the routes like the back of her hand. She is an independent woman for the time, refusing marriage to her long time love, and shucking the societal rules women were to abide by in the 1930’s. She further goes against the grain when she hires Sophia, a woman of colour, to help organize the library itself. This presents its own challenges in a time when segregation was still rampant.

Also quick to volunteer is Alice Wright, newly married, freshly arrived in Baileyville from England. She is an outsider in the town with her strange accent and domineering father-in-law and jumps at the chance to escape her house and explore the mountains with the library program.

Two younger girls, Izzy and Beth make up the ensemble, and bring their own reasons for joining in. Each of the women is looking for something new and exciting, and the packhorse librarian troupe does not disappoint.

Naturally, the library is welcomed by some and frowned upon by others. However, the little town did not count on the strength of the women undertaking to bring books to those without. They bravely fight against racism, poverty, danger, and nature to carry out their duty heroically with kindness and compassion.

Based on historical facts of the pack horse program and the struggles of the 1930’s Kentucky mountains, this is an enduring tale of friendship and camaraderie that takes this small but dedicated group of women far beyond what they thought they were capable of. From the author of Me Before You, set in Depression-era America, a breathtaking story of five extraordinary women and their remarkable journey through the mountains of Kentucky and beyond.

Helen Varga is a Library Technician at the Steveston Branch of Richmond Public Library and a part of the library's Book Review Team.

The library’s Book Review Team is a diverse group of librarians and library technicians who each have unique reading interests and writing styles. The library’s book reviews provide interested readers with a sneak peek into the characters, the story and the most interesting elements of the book they have chosen to review.

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