If you’re looking for an entertaining read, one that takes you out of the hustle and bustle of life in the fast lane here in Westchester, if you’re tired of dark and sinister books (at least for the moment), allow me to recommend a real charmer of a new book: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, by Katarina Bivald.
The book is a love story to reading, and to books, and if you’re the kind of person who looks for books about book lovers, about the joys of reading and sharing what you read, you’re going to get a kick out of this one. You can even test yourself (though this is certainly not necessary) by seeing if you’ve read all the books discussed in this novel.
The premise is simple enough: Sara, a quiet young woman from Sweden who’s been working in a bookstore there for years (until it shut down and she lost her job), was corresponding with Amy, a book lover in the small Iowa town of Broken Wheel for a period of time, during which Amy shared all kinds of information, not just about the books the two of them loved, but also about the people in the small town in which she’d lived all her life. Finally Sara decides to take the plunge and come to Broken Wheel for a visit, even though she’s never been that far from home in her life and her parents are convinced there are nothing but serial killers and crazy people in the United States.
Sara arrives in Broken Wheel and is somewhat taken aback by the emptiness of the town, and more taken aback by her bad timing: she arrives on the day of Amy’s funeral. Sara had no idea Amy had been sick, let alone that she was likely to die soon. Sara has no idea what to do: should she return to Sweden with her tail (metaphorically) between her legs or should she stay here in this place where she doesn’t know a single soul?
The people of the town show her extraordinary kindness, encouraging her to stay in Amy’s house, refusing to take any payment for any of the things they sell her in the town. She feels embarrassed by their generosity and decides to pay them back by opening a bookstore in one of the empty storefronts in town, though there’s no evidence whatsoever that the people in town feel they have any need for any such thing. But Sara’s love for books and her certainty that there’s a book for everyone, however hard it may be to find that book, begins to win people over.
I’m making this sound as if it’s just a book about Sara and the bookstore, but I’m doing the book a disservice, because it’s full of characters, the charming and quirky people who live in the town, from the gay couple who run the local bar to the young woman who had a child out of wedlock years ago and has lived on the outskirts of the town’s life since to the man deserted by his wife and child years ago who begins to find new life in helping Sara, not to mention the young man with whom the town is trying to match Sara up.
This was a book I couldn’t put down, not because of the thrill-a-minute plot, but because of the beguiling and enchanting characters, including the late great Amy herself, whose letters to Sara punctuate the chapters and give us a real sense of who she was and what, ultimately, she thought she was doing. The book has a sly, gentle sense of humor, and compassion even for the least likely people. It even has a very satisfying ending. Read it if you love books, read it if you love small town America, read it if you, like Sara, believe that there’s a book for everybody.