“The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend” by Katrina Bivald


Two friends meet online over their mutual love of books: Amy, an elderly woman in Broken Wheel, Iowa; and Sara, a young bookseller in Sweden. Although they met online, they begin a pre-internet practice of writing letters to each other about their respective reading lists and events going on in their lives. Through their correspondence, Sara learns of the varied characters that live in Broken Wheel, and Amy learns of the goings on at the bookstore. Amy repeatedly invites Sara to visit Iowa. When Sara loses her job due to the bookstore’s going out of business, she decides there is nothing stopping her from making the trip.

Upon arrival, Sara learns that, while in in route, Amy succumbed to a long terminal illness – the funeral was just letting out. She had travelled half way around the world to stay with her friend, and now her friend is dead. The town, not quite sure what to do with her, takes Sara in and insists she stay in Amy’s house for as long as she wants.

It’s clear to Sara: Broken Wheel’s best days were many years ago. Most of the main street is boarded up, save a diner and a hardware/grocery. As is typical of most rural areas, the agrarian economy was wiped out when big commercial farms took over the industry and made it difficult for family farms to compete. As one resident, John, summed up the dying town: “If there aren’t any jobs then the young people and the families won’t stay, and if the families don’t stay then there aren’t any new young people, and there’s no town without young people.”

When Sara learns that one of the boarded storefronts in town belonged to Amy (her husband ran a competing hardware store) she decides what the town needs most is a bookstore! The odds are stacked against her. Her bookstore in Sweden closed in the heart of a thriving town – it’s a tough business even in the best of circumstances. Worse, there are virtually no readers in Broken Wheel – who would be her customers? Undeterred, Sara starts to refurbish the store. Immediately the town pitches in. Caroline, the local church lady, takes up a collection of used furniture and shelves. George, a down-and-out who struggles with alcohol, helps with cleaning and painting the store. For inventory they start out with Amy’s large collection of books. It is the most exciting thing to happen in Broken Wheel in decades.

The main themes are rebirth and the power of books to transform lives. The bookstore revives main street – it gives new life not only to the town, but to the individuals who start to read. George now has a purpose and gives up alcohol. Prim and proper Caroline gives up shame from the past and finds love with a younger man. Grumpy Grace (owner of the diner), starts to try out something she read in a book: “If you have a talent or skill, it is your responsibility to give of your gift to those with less ability.” She begins to use her talent to bake cakes for Caroline’s church bake sale. And lonely Tom (Amy’s only relative and nephew) and Sara form a relationship.

Will it all come to an end when the Immigration Investigator comes to town just before Sara’s Visa expires? You’ll have to read the book.

Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, April 2. Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, April 4 to discuss The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome. The Club meets monthly all year long. Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.