First published in Sweden in 2013, in the U.S. in 2015
Image from Goodreads
The Short Of It:
A quick, easy read filled with endless bookish references to please us bibliophiles. Hardly the best book I've read this year, but a fun diversion. Plus it's partly written in letters, which is always a plus in my book!
The Long Of It:
"The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend" is aimed at book-lovers who like charm, quirk and abundant literary references in their novels. It does deliver in some respects but there's definitely room for improvement. Still, it's probably decent enough to please most readers who enjoy books about books.
Twentysomething booknerd Sara Lindqvist has traveled all the way from Sweden to spend two months with Amy, her elderly bookish pen pal, in the tiny town of Broken Wheel, Iowa. But when Sara arrives, she's stunned to learn that Amy has just passed away (but don't worry -- we readers meet Amy through her letters to Sara, which appear throughout the book). The townsfolk convince Sara to stay and take up residence in Amy's home, but without her friend to spend hours talking books with, Sara is at loose ends.
Surrounded by Amy's hundreds of books, Sara decides to open a used bookstore in one of the many abandoned storefronts on Broken Wheel's main drag. She hopes to share her love of reading with the town's residents, distribute Amy's books in a worthy way, and for once in her life take a chance and do something interesting and meaningful. What she doesn't count on is providing a gust of fresh air to a deteriorating town, making true friendships with the oddball citizens of Broken Wheel, and even finding romance -- something she'd never have dared to dream of as a shy, mousy bookstore clerk back in Sweden, where she had no friends and definitely no significant others.
While "Broken Wheel" was a cute, fun, fluffy bookish story, there were several things I struggled with. I initially had a hard time keeping all the characters straight, and I never really cared about their stories or the sometimes-annoying small-town dynamic. Bivald was going for quirk, but sometimes Sara's new friends were just plain irritating. I also never really warmed up to Sara. I appreciated her deep love of books, but I was frustrated with her utter lack of self-confidence and her weak nature.
Something else that was missing for me was the desire to pack up and move to Broken Wheel -- or even just keep reading to stay in the imaginary world a little longer -- though I did applaud Bivald's choice of an unusual location. Charming small-town stories often have a wonderful sense of cozy, quaint, whimsical atmosphere, but Broken Wheel sounds like a positively miserable place to me. I could not fathom living in a town with fewer than 700 residents that doesn't even have a school or grocery store, and where half the citizens seem to be in need of some Prozac.
"Broken Wheel" likens itself to "The Little Paris Bookshop" and "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry," and I can see how it would appeal to readers who appreciate those types of stories. I mean, how can a novel that's about people who love books as much as we do -- and features a bookstore, a girl determined to spread the joy of reading, and a lovely quote about the intoxicating smell of books -- possibly be that bad!? Save this one for when you need a light read to remind you why you have this crazy, wonderful love affair with books.