The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald


The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

General Fictiontranslated by Alice Menzies

Broken Wheel is barely a speck on the map of Iowa, just outside of a slightly larger town, Hope. Amy Harris lived in Broken Wheel all her life. Now that she’s older, a long time widow, an avid reader, and not in the best of health, she starts a penpal/book discussion with Sara Lindqvist in Haninge, Sweden. After a couple years writing, Amy invites Sara, as much of a bookworm as she, to come visit Broken Wheel.

Sara feels like she knows the town and the people from the older woman’s letters. But when she arrives, things are not like she expects. Jimmie Coogan St. (formally 4th) is barely a street at all. Amy’s nephew, Tom, is withdrawn. Most of the stores are closed up. Amy’s letters had talked about the problems in town with the economy hitting them so hard and so many people moving away. Now Sara sees.

Everyone is friendly, though. They won’t let her pay for anything – rent while she’s at Amy’s house, her food, or her drinks at the Square, the local bar. Finally Sara comes up with a plan. She has plenty of money with her. The bookstore where she worked in Haninge closed, leaving her drifting. While that gave her a few months to visit Broken Wheel, she misses the books.

Sara looks at all the books in Amy’s house and her own books she sent before she arrived. Then she cleans up and paints up Amy’s husband’s shop that has been close since he died. Sara turns it into a bookshop. Hope doesn’t have a bookshop. Neither do any of the small Iowan towns around them. Broken Wheel has something new. Quickly it’s a bright spot in a declining town.

Instead of traditional sections like mysteries, romance, classics, fantasy, etc., Sara names her book shelves with titles like “SEX, VIOLENCE, AND WEAPONS” or “WARNING: UNHAPPY ENDING!” or “SMALL TOWN LIFE” or “SHORT BUT SWEET”. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend belongs under Sara’s label “HAPPY ENDINGS WHEN YOU NEED THEM”.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is Swedish author Katarina Bivald’s first novel. This novel sounds like it was written by an American because of the setting. Bivald captures the dying American rural town and its characters. She could have made it dismal. Instead, she makes it realistic without being depressing.

The reader has to chuckle when the Town Council is excited because they have a Tourist! Before she opens the bookstore, they devise ways to keep Sara in town and busy. Although Sara talks with Amy, the older woman is unable to go anywhere with Sara. Instead the God-fearing older teacher, the housewife with few contemporaries, and the bar’s gay owner gang together to keep Sara busy, happy, and in Broken Wheel.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is a love story – the love of books, the love of a town, and the reluctant love of a couple. Bivald twines them together into a charming tale that lends hope in a dreary sounding world.


An extra for book lovers: At the end of the book Bivald lists the titles, authors, and series of the many books mentioned in The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend.

Link to Books

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