Monday, December 7, 2015

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

Title:  The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
Author:  Katarina Bivald
Publication Information:  Sourcebooks Landmark. 2016. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0701189061 / 978-0701189068

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I hope you enjoy Louisa May Alcott's An Old Fashioned Girl."

Favorite Quote:  "Books had been a defensive wall, yes, though that wasn't all. They had protected Sara from the world around her, but they had also turned it into a fuzzy backdrop for the real adventures in her life."

The book has "readers" in the title and books on the cover. It pulls me right in. Sara Lindqvist, a bookseller from Sweden, has travelled thousands of miles to Broken Wheel, Iowa to visit Amy Harris, a friend she has never met. Amy and Sara have been pen pals. Amy has invited Sara to visit and to stay with her, and Sara actually comes.

The problem is that Amy Harris has recently died. What is Sara to do? Enter the residents of the very small town of Broken Wheel. They adopt Sara as one of their own, and convince her to stay for her vacation in Amy's house as a guest of the entire town. Of course, Sara stays, and predictably is pulled into the life of this small town.

Broken Wheel, Iowa depicts a stereotypical small town, with a dying economy, people who can't leave fast enough and people tied to it, several quirky characters, and a pride often found in small towns.  Setting this book into the context of a small town in the United States adds a whole layer of small town drama that would not be possible in a different setting. What makes this depiction more remarkable is the fact that the book is written by a Swedish author with no real personal knowledge of small town America.

Sara brings her love of books to this town, especially as she discovers Amy's treasure trove of books and the fact that no one else in this town really reads. Of course, she has the knack of picking the right book for the right person and a way of drawing people to her.

Ultimately, this book is all about relationships and the things that get in the way of two people and their relationship. Some of the perceived obstacles to relationships in this book are:
  • Difference of age
  • Differences in culture
  • Difference of race
  • Fear of society's judgement ("what will people say!")
  • Former relationships
  • Immigration legalities
  • Society's prejudices
    This theme of relationship roadblocks - real and perceived - repeats across multiple couples throughout the book. Different couples deal with their challenges in different ways - moving past the obstacle together, keeping the relationship a secret, and even walking away from the relationship.

    The other theme that occurs throughout is, of course, books. Many books are referenced throughout. Some old favorites - including childhood favorites - bring a smile to my face; some new ones get marked for the never-ending "to read" list. Sara's way of organizing collections and matching books are readers adds level of enjoyment to the bibliophile in me.

    Sweet and predictable are the words that come to mind for this book. Sweet in the way the small town embraces Sara. Sweet in the way Sara invests in the town to repay their kindness. Sweet in the way Broken Wheel is a place to belong to. Predictable in the ending. Predictable in the way things seem to work out. As Sara thinks, "Feel good books were ones you could put down with a smile on your face, books that make you think the world was a little crazier, stranger, and more beautiful when you looked up from them." Sometimes, sweet and predictable and a cup of tea are all that is needed for a feel good afternoon curled up with a book.
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    by Katarina Bivald

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    *** BLOG TOUR - Welcome Katarina Bivald! ***

    Guest post by Katarina Bivald
    How To Capture Small Town America

    Step 1: Slowly Step Away from Reality
    Nothing good has ever come from reality. Now is not the time to be burdened by that the most boring of boring questions: could it really happen that way? I’m going to spend years working in this small town, escaping to it on evenings and weekends and holidays, and it has to be much more fun that real life and real small towns.

    Step 2: Read and Research
    I think small towns are best experienced in books. This is not in any way a critique of small towns: everything is probably better in books. Real life is so incredibly… unstructured. God has a lousy sense of plot. 

    Step 3: The People
    While it is technically true that all towns consist mainly of people, it is most true for small town: it is simply impossible to avoid people there. It is one of the reasons I love placing my books in small towns – my characters can be different and still meet. They can have different backgrounds, ages, marital status and so forth and still find themselves having to deal with each other. In a bigger city, Caroline would never have to meet Grace, and wouldn’t that be a shame, for both of them?

    Step 4: Love it or Leave it
    This, of course, is not in any way an absolute rule (as are none of the above). I’ve read many good books about small towns written from the perspective of someone who hated the whole thing (most notably Jonathan Tropper's The Book of Joe). But for me, I couldn’t write about a place (or a person, perhaps) that I didn’t feel some kind of love for. For me, it adds a sort of humanity or kindness to it, and makes it possible for me to describe the problems and the idiosyncrasies; knowing that there is a sort of love behind it all.

    Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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