Imagine planning a trip to visit a friend and arriving at her house just as the funeral guests are leaving. Actually, I can't imagine what that would be like, and I'm grateful never to have had such an experience. But that is exactly how the story of Sara's visit to Broken Wheel begins. She has been pen pals with Amy (a resident of the town), and they have planned this visit, but Amy dies before Sara arrives. Now Sara is at loose ends. The bookshop she worked in back home in Sweden has closed, so she is between jobs. She is not particularly close to her sister and her parents were not wild about the idea of the trip. She has no really close friends or romantic ties to anyone back home, which was what had freed her to plan a 2-month visit with Amy in the first place. So she decides to stay for a while and spend some time in this town that she feels she already knows through Amy's letters. And the book lover in her comes out as she becomes acquainted with the townsfolk. She begins finding books for each of them: Grace, the fiercely independent woman with the gun below the counter of her diner; May and Gertrude, the older women who spend their time drinking coffee in the diner; Andy, the owner of the local bar; George, the town's reformed drunk; etc.
I've seen blurbs comparing this book to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but I have not read that title, so I can't say if those comparisons are accurate. I've also seen it compared to The Storied Life of A J Fikry, which I have read. That is a fair comparison, although the Fikry book had critiques of classic books in it, and the Broken Wheel story depends more on quotes from books or references to books. But both show a deep love of books and an understanding that "There's always a person for every book. And a book for very person." As Sara says, "They're meant to be better than reality. Bigger, funnier, more beautiful, more tragic, more romantic."
The story contains Amy's character through her letters to Sara, which precede each chapter and help us to know the people of Broken Wheel as Amy did. And Sara's idea to bring books to the townspeople is a carryover of her friendship with Amy and their common love of books. "She might not quite be a part of the town, but she had become a part of its history. And she swore to herself that she would force books on them before she was done here." Amy's nephew Tom sees why the friendship grew between the two women and advises Sara, "if you're going to get this lot to read, you're going to need to be more cunning."
The writing is so easy to read; it just flows along and before you know it, hours have gone by and the book is done. You find yourself sitting there and thinking of the characters as if they were real people that you might run into if you went out to the store. There is heartache, friendship, a bit of romance, humor, and lots of books - all in all a very good mix. Whether you enjoy books that have you laughing out loud, or stories where you may need to reach for a tissue, there is some of both in these pages. You may even want to dive right back in and read it again, just to figure out the answer to a question that comes up in the story, "What is it with this town?" Until you read it, you'll never know - and that would be a shame.
I read an advance copy provided by the publisher for review purposes.