When I was a sophomore in college, I discovered a small mom and pop run bookshop where there were bargain books in bins on the wrap-around-porch, and inside the shop had tall mismatched bookshelves, with piles of books in all directions. The bookshop had an earthly smell—the unique scent that all booklovers know so well. This bookshop was one of my favorite places on earth and these are the type of bookshops that become the backbone of a book lover’s paradise. Where many lives are lived, and countless places are travelled. Books are a uniquely portable magic, and this magic is captured in Katarina Bivald’s The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend.
In Bivald’s sweet and tender story, Sara Lindqvist is a shy and reclusive bookworm who travels to small town Broken Wheel, Iowa from Sweden to spend a few months with her long time pen pal, Amy Harris. But when Amy suddenly dies while Sara is en route, she finds herself being taken care of by the town’s quirky inhabitants. To repay the decaying town for their genuine kindness, she decides to open up a small bookshop. This action slowly revamps the quiet town and its townsfolk, showing the unique magic that books possess.
Sara’s custom book recommendations to the people of Broken Wheel slowly alters their lives. The casual reader may disregard this book too quickly because nothing really seems to be happening, plot-wise, but blink and you’ll miss the slow transformation Broken Wheel makes. This story is a commentary on how books can change you. Sarah’s decision to recommend to gay erotica to a secretly gay member of the community, isn’t just her tailoring a book to his needs, it’s her way of finding books for him that show him that his life is his own, and he should live it in the way he wants.
Aside from Sara, the other main character is Amy Harris. Although Amy is dead throughout the novel, she comes to life in the letters that she had written to Sara. These letters tell Sara and the readers all about Broken Wheel, its residents and their stories. Despite that fact that she is not physically present, she is part of the story throughout the book.
This book has tons of great secondary characters. Broken Wheel is a small town, and you get a sense of the community with the vivid presence of each minor character. One of the most memorable scenes has to be when Sara is completely engrossed in a book that outside her bookshop a small crowd begins to form, observing her read a book. Despite the fact that there was a crowd of people, it read as an intimate experience because as a reader, I had come to know all the other townsfolk so well. This aspect plays out well throughout the story, especially when the townsfolk conspire to bring Sara and Tom, her love interest, together.
Though this book was very lengthy, and at times the story seemed to drag on, it was worth it to continue reading and find all the redeeming qualities in the end. A story that can be greatly appreciated by bookworms, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is a feel good story about the many ways in which books, and the small book stores that house them, can change our lives.
★ ★ ★ ★