The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
Sara Lindqvist is a booklover. In fact, she prefers books to people almost all the time. Books are safe havens, you see, whereas people are not. They can be unpleasant, frightening and uncooperative. How much better to connect and reconnect with beloved fictional characters, who never make life difficult for the reader? (Except, perhaps, for their occasional unhappy endings.) She always knows about Lisbeth Salander’s hacker identity, that Anne Shirley will break her slate over Gilbert’s head, what drives Jay Gatsby to succeed, and how Jo will sacrifice for her family. Sara can visit these friends again and again, without the complications of human relationships.
Sara has a total of four friends. She has worked at a bookstore in Sweden since she was 17, and three of them are her co-workers. The fourth is her American pal Amy, with whom she has been exchanging both letters and recommended novels. When Sara’s bookstore job ends unexpectedly, Amy invites her to visit America --- specifically Broken Wheel, Iowa, where she lives. At loose ends and pressured by her parents to find an appropriate job, Sara accepts, and applies for a tourist visa to travel to the United States.
"Katarina Bivald is a gifted writer who invents unusual (yet quite believable) characters, creates amazing atmosphere and setting, and draws the reader gently but quite firmly into this beautiful story of the unexpected."
Sara arrives safely in Hope, Iowa, the next town over from Broken Wheel. However, Amy doesn’t seem to be answering her phone, and no one comes to collect Sara. Eventually, after watching Sara stand on the street as she waits, with her nose in a book, a woman sends her off to the Broken Wheel diner, chauffeured by her husband. Sara steps inside and speaks to Grace, the diner’s owner, who abruptly states that Amy Harris is dead.
Apparently the funeral is going on as the two women speak, and Grace tells George (Poor George, that is) to take Sara out to Amy’s house, where all of her friends and fellow Broken Wheel residents are quietly eating, talking and moving about. Decisive and beautiful Caroline Rohde takes Sara in hand; they didn’t know what to do about her when Amy died, she says, so they didn’t try to contact her. Now that Sara is here, she should just stay at Amy’s (since it’s now an empty house), Caroline assures her. After all, there is plenty of food left over from the funeral gathering.
Of course, this is not the holiday trip that Sara had planned. And Broken Wheel, which would have had a certain charm had Amy been around to share it with her, doesn’t seem to have much to recommend it, although there is a collection of interesting characters who populate the town.
At first, Sara closets herself in Amy’s house. In her beautiful bookcase-lined room, she discovers the incredible collection of books that had been a part of her life. This delightful pastime is interrupted by Broken Wheel’s would-be matchmakers, who believe that this is the perfect time to get the town’s one remaining bachelor married off. Neither Tom, the bachelor, nor Sara is exactly thrilled by this.
However, one of Sara’s bookstore co-workers had told her that “…all stories started with someone coming or someone going.” One day, Sara is being driven through the town, and her attention is caught by an empty shop between the hardware store and the diner. And she is captivated by the idea of providing a lovely, homey bookstore for this dismal town of people who don’t actually seem to be readers. What better use for Amy’s enormous collection of quality reads?
Katarina Bivald is a gifted writer who invents unusual (yet quite believable) characters, creates amazing atmosphere and setting, and draws the reader gently but quite firmly into this beautiful story of the unexpected. You will adore Sara and be charmed by her impact on Broken Wheel --- and Broken Wheel’s effect on her. Don’t miss this delightful tale of discovery and transformation of a group of people and a town that are so much more than they first appear.
Reviewed by Melanie Reynolds on January 22, 2016