There’s nothing I love more than meeting a character in a book who shares my love of reading. From Helene Hanff in 84 Charing Cross Road to A.J. Fikry and Amelia in The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry to Matilda in Roald Dahl’s beloved book of the same name to Anne in Anne of Green Gables to Her Majesty the Queen in Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader, every time I find a character between the pages of a book who shares my (slightly unreasonable) love for books, I am instantly in the company of a kindred spirit.
I knew this book was going to introduce me to fellow readers, so I saved it. When I finally let myself start it (while on vacation), I loved it so much within the first 50 pages that I didn’t want it to ever end.
The book centres around Sara, a Swedish bookseller who has come to visit her penpal, Amy, in the small American town of Broken Wheel. The two “met” when Sara bought a book online from Amy, who refused payment. Sara then returned the favour, and before they knew it, they’d become fast friends, bonding over their favourite books and sharing their lives with one another.
Unfortunately, when Sara arrives in America, it is to discover that Amy has passed away (don’t worry, this happens within the first couple of chapters). At a loss, Sara accepts the offer of Amy’s friends and neighbours to stay in Amy’s house, and before she knows it, the entire town seems to have adopted her. They designate someone to give her rides, they won’t let her pay for drinks or food – they won’t even accept any form of payment for staying in Amy’s house.
Determined to repay the many kindnesses showered upon her, Sara at first offers to help out behind the bar and in the local store, but no one will let her. After careful consideration, Sara realizes there’s one thing she has to offer – a love of reading. Using Amy’s extensive book collection, Sara sets up a “store” in an abandoned storefront in town, allowing residents to borrow books, and selling a few to tourists.
Up to this point, the book is magic. Sara is a sympathetic character – shy, bookish, nervous but also in search of her own adventure and willing to see the best in the world around her. The townsfolk are an eccentric yet lovable cast of characters, each bringing a unique something to the town’s patchwork of residents.
Most of this book was pretty near perfect. The plot pacing, the story arc, the character development – all fantastic. Towards the end, though, I did have a few issues. (If you don’t want to know anything about how the plot progresses, you should stop reading here – the following isn’t exactly a spoiler, but it does hint at a couple of themes.) Love affairs begin to spark – two of them – and while I was rooting for them, I was also frustrated with how they were written. I have a hard time with problems arising due to the transparent ploy of characters not communicating. I won’t say anything more than that, because I really don’t want to give anything away, but that’s where the story did lose a bit of its wonder for me.
That said, I still loved this book. The first 80% was worth the somewhat tedious romantic development later on, simply for the pure joy of finding such a bookish character and meeting the town of Broken Wheel. I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a light read with plenty of whimsy and vicarious book-love!
A debut novel to charm all readers, that shows beyond all doubt that it’s books, along with love, that make the world go round.
It all began with a correspondence between two quite different women: 28-year-old Sara from Haninge, Sweden, and 65-year-old Amy from the small town of Broken Wheel, Iowa. After years of exchanging books, letters and thoughts on the meaning of literature and life, Sara, mousy, disheveled, who has never been anywhere in her life–has really lived only for her work in a beloved bookshop, which has just closed its doors for the last time–bravely decides to accept her unknown friend’s invitation to visit. But when she arrives, she finds her house empty, the funeral guests just heading home. . .
Sara finds herself alone. And what choice do the inhabitants of Broken Wheel have but to take care of their bewildered tourist? And what choice does Sara have, faced with a town where nobody reads and her desire to honour her friend, but to set up the perfect bookshop with all the books she and Amy shared–from Yann Martel’s Life of Pi to Iris Murdoch and Jo Nesbo, to Bridget Jones and Doug Coupland’s All Families Are Psychotic to Little House on the Prairie? And then watch as the townsfolk are, one by one, transformed in unexpected ways. . . – Goodreads
**Thanks to Random House Canada for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!**
Book Title: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
Author: Katarina Bivald
Published By: Bond Street Books
Released: August 25, 2015
Genre: Fiction, Literary, Character-Driven
Date Read: August 31-September 15, 2015