"The Reader's of Broken Wheel Recommend" Katarina Bivald

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
I ordered this from the library - a 60p reservation charge for a hardback edition is an absolute bargain! You don't need to ask why I was attracted to the book, obviously the words "recommend", "reader's" and the picture of books swung it for me!!

I'm so glad I got hold of this book. It is a lovely, gentle, heartwarming read about books, small town communities, friendship and love. Meet Sara Lindquist, a Swedish bookworm who unexpectedly loses her job in a bookshop where she has worked for 10 years. Although she believes reading books isn't a bad way to live your life, she yearns to do something different - to experience something "big".

Before Sara's Book Shop was closed down, she bought a novel through an online second hand website from Amy Harris, an elderly lady living in the small backwater of Broken Wheel, Iowa, America. Amy refused payment, so Sara returned the favour by sending another book. The two women then became pen pals, exchanging books and little snippets of news about their everyday lives. Now free of any responsibility, Sara makes the bold decision to take a trip to meet Amy as there was no chance "anyone who wrote on proper cream coloured paper would abandon a friend in a strange town and turn out to be a psychopathic serial killer". Having spent most of her life living vicariously through fiction ("many of her most rewarding relationships had been with people that didn't even exist"), there was noting odd or risky to her about travelling all this way to stay with a stranger; to finally see Broken Wheel and its characters for herself.

However, when she arrives in Iowa, she is greeted with the news that Amy is dead.

What follows next is Sara's journey to rebuild the aptly named town of Broken Wheel through the healing power of words and stories by setting up a book shop. What problem can't a good book fix? "As soon as the inhabitants of Broken Wheel start reading, they will get better." Sara's mantra is "a person for every book, a book for every person." And it's not just the other towns folk who need healing, Sara too needs to find a purpose. She needs to feel like she belongs somewhere and to do this she needs confidence, adventure and romance. Perhaps some "reality" rather than hiding between the safe pages of a novel "where people are always better, nicer, friendlier."

The chapters are separated with Amy's letters. Her notes are brief and just provide snapshots of the people in her life. It is a really interesting technique - she is one of the main characters but all we hear from her is through these short letters which reference her reading habits and various bits of information about her family which we can then piece together with Sara's experiences to join the dots. As she is to Sara, so is Amy also to the reader, a shadow; always there, always part of each event but passively offering wisdom and insight gently and reassuringly in the background. I liked this aspect of the novel's structure.

I also enjoyed the many literary references - particularly Amy's comment that Joyce Carol Oates had never won the Nobel Prize because her productivity overwhelmed the male critics sense of self- "she writes more quickly than they can critique her."

I also really enjoyed the headings Sara chose to label her shelves with in the new shop: "Sex, Violence & Weapons" for thrillers, "Small Town Life", "Warning Unhappy Endings" for some classics like John Steinbeck's novels, "Short but Sweet" for the short but sweet! I think this book would be shelved perfectly under "For Friday Nights and Lazy Sundays" and "Happy Endings For When You Need Them." I'm quite inspired to reorganise my shelves under these headings!

This book is a little predictable, it does follow the well worn path of a romantic chick lit tale of friendship and self discovery, but do you know, what's wrong with that? I spent the evening curled up, engrossed in this charming, well written book about a kindred spirit who wants to spread her love for books, heal people and find a true sense of "coming home". I enjoyed being part of Sara's journey and was pleased that by the end she realises "once upon a time she hadn't wanted to be anything other than a minor character - to be the protagonist was too much to ask...but now..."

Amy's kind and warm comments help Sara to see that people can be as treasured as books and can be worth as much. She helps her to understand that dreams can be followed in real life rather than only in books and sometimes, reality can be as rewarding, happy and fulfilling as fiction.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves to bury themselves books, identifies with fictional characters more often than real ones and who is looking for a book with a happy ending! If you liked "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society", "The Little Paris Bookshop", the "Big Stone Gap" series, "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe" or "The Rejected Writers' Book Club" you will almost certainly enjoy this book!

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