The concept of this book strongly appealed to me: a young woman visits a dying midwestern town and revives it by opening a bookstore. To anyone other than a complete and utter Book Fool, this sounds….improbable-dull-ridiculous? To me, it sounds like love.
Sara Lindquist sets out from her home in Sweden (yes, that’s right. Sweden. The Country.) to visit Amy Harris, a woman in Iowa with whom she has corresponded for a while. The two bonded over books, and Sara feels she knows Amy’s hometown of Broken Wheel, Iowa through Amy’s descriptions of the people and places there. For Sara, this is a huge step forward out of a quiet, unremarkable life as a bookstore employee. Sara’s anticipation of an entertaining visit talking with Amy about books is deflated upon her arrival when she discovers Amy has died. But then a remarkable thing happens. The town takes her in as Amy’s guest, just as though Amy were still alive. Sara comes to really know all the people Amy wrote about, and their stories, blended with the quiet desperation of a dying town, change course as they merge with Sara’s own story.
Truth be told, I nearly gave up on this book after the 100 pages. There wasn’t much happening and it just seemed incredibly sad. However, all the positive reviews this was getting kept me pushing through, and I am glad I persevered. The pace of the story remained slow through much of the book, but it accurately matched the pace of life in a town slowly fading away…until the last quarter of the book, that is, when everyone’s story seems to speed up and change.
The author uses Sara as a catalyst for change in this little town. Her arrival sets in motion a whole pattern of events that dramatically change the lives of several Broken Wheel residents. It’s as though Sara is Amy Harris’ parting gift to the people she loved, and that Broken Wheel is her gift to Sara.
This is a gentle, homey type of story that will appeal to book clubs, especially those in small towns. Bivald has captured some of the sadness and helplessness felt in Small Town America, but tempered that with the message that things can always change.