The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes (2019)
It begins with Alice, a young English woman who meets and marries an American named Bennett Van Cleve, partly just to escape her unsatisfying life in which she is constantly disappointing her parents. So she moves to rural Kentucky with Bennett and his father, and proceeds to disappoint both of them. But! She meets Margery O'Hare, who is running the local packhorse library and signs up to help with book deliveries to poor families who aren't able to come into town. It's hard work, but very satisfying, unlike her lackluster marriage, which has basically fizzled before it even got started.
The Van Cleves don't like Margery because of her family and disapprove of Alice being associated with her. I don't think Bennett actually cares that much, but he just goes along with whatever his father wants because he's a total wuss. But his father continues to get riled up and starts complaining pretty publicly about the library, disapproving of the effects of all this book readin' on local women who are no longer doing their housework because they are instead reading novels (yeah!) and also there's a rumor of a very inappropriate book about sex being passed around. In short, Mr. Van Cleve is an ass, and also a total hypocrite since he owns the local mines and is not looking out for the well-being of the people who risk their lives working for him.
Well, there is so much more to this story but of course I don't want to give it all away. A lot of things come up about the conditions of women in this place and time, and I really rooted for all the librarians who were bucking tradition in various ways. I loved Margery O'Hare especially, the leader of the library and pariah in the town, who very much lived her life the way she wanted without a care for appearance or expectations. Of course it hurts her, but she is a very strong woman. Alice had a transformation throughout the book and it was great to see how she navigated her terrible marriage and her friendships and family expectations, and figured out what she really wanted for herself.
My only criticism is that it all wrapped up so very quickly at the end. I hoped things would be pretty neat and tidy (we're in the midst of a pandemic and I don't need more bad news) but I just wish more time had been allotted to the ending and how everything turned out for everyone. But that didn't put much of a damper on my enjoyment.
This story has it all - adventure, romance, even a murder trial - and I had a great time immersing myself in it.
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