Next on the list: the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge wanted me to read a book about a book club. Sounds simple, right?
HARDLY. The first book I picked, well, it turned out I’d already read it several years ago. Of course. And then every other book that looked good had a 247389247893 week wait. Okay, cool. But then nothing else looked good! HMPH. I finally settled on The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald, translated by Alice Menzies (Sourcebooks Landmark, 2016). The blurb made it sound appealing, and two of my friends read and enjoyed it, so what could go wrong?
Upon arriving in Iowa from Sweden to visit her longtime penpal Amy, Sara discovers that Amy has just died. The town of Broken Wheel is in deep grief over Amy’s passing, but they rally around Sara, putting her up in Amy’s house, making sure she has a driver to get around town (all four streets of it), and providing her with general hospitality. Sara begins to fall in love with this tiny town and opens a bookstore with Amy’s old books. The townspeople, who are not readers, are suspicious at first, but quickly, Sara worms her way into their hearts and they decide that she needs to stay there.
But how does someone on a tourist visa stay? By getting married, of course, and so they propose to her on behalf of one of the few bachelors in town. It’s a somewhat reluctant race to the altar before the local immigration official figures out their plot, with a lot of small-town drama and maybe a little falling in love on the way.
Guys…I didn’t like this one at ALL. If it hadn’t been for the reading challenge and my struggle to pick a book (and the fact that this was a library ebook, which have limited numbers of checkouts per copy), I would have quit this around 30%. It was absolutely not the book for me.
Sara is from Sweden, but not only is she entirely devoid of personality, there’s nothing that differentiates her from any other citizen of Broken Wheel. There are almost no mentions of life back home outside of her job in a now-defunct bookstore, no mentions of Swedish foods she’s missing, holiday traditions, no bits of linguistic interest (I always love seeing italicized non-English words in books with characters from different countries; there was none of that here, which was a huge bummer for me as I can read a little bit of Swedish, since it looks a lot like misspelled Norwegian). Other than her brief asides of wanting to eat traditional American food- which turned out to be a bizarre focus on macaroni and cheese (which…I mean, they have that in Sweden? See?), corn dogs, and sloppy joes (pass the heartburn medication, please)- there was absolutely nothing that marked her as someone from Sweden. The townspeople didn’t even ask her any questions about her home country. I’m not sure what the author was going for here, but they came off as lacking curiosity and uninterested in anything but themselves. Which, I mean, okay, that can definitely be true about small towns, but not to this extent.
The townspeople were completely unrealistic, almost caricatures instead of real people. It seemed as though Ms. Bivald was aiming for folksy and instead landed on ‘limited facsimile of what she thinks small-town people are like.’ Every person is one thing and one thing only. The bar owner is gay. His boyfriend is handsome. The diner owner is tough. The church lady is bossy. These are their sole personality traits and no one in this town is any more complex, with the sole exception of George, the former town drunk who’s grieving the loss of his daughter (who isn’t dead; his ex-wife just left) and who, somehow, in 2016, had never heard of Facebook.
Almost every situation in this book was bafflingly unrealistic. There are only 658 people in the town of Broken Wheel (I’ve lived in a town just a tad bigger than this, with about 900 people, so I know what it’s actually like), and somehow that renders every last person there completely thrown by…someone who reads? The town collectively drops what they’re doing to- and I swear I’m not making this up- stare at Sara through her shop window while she reads for five hours and thirty-seven minutes. WHAT??? I’m sorry, I know we as readers all want to believe we’re special and fascinating and nothing could possibly be more interesting than us, but no. Nope. This would never, ever happen. They even stand out there watching her as it gets dark. This is at about the point I would have put the book down if I hadn’t needed it.
There’s also a scene in which Sara walks to Tom’s house. Tom is the man the townspeople have chosen to marry her, you know, without telling him (again, entirely unrealistic in a multitude of ways; they actually visit a lawyer to ask how she can stay in the US, without even asking her if she wants to stay). At this point, Tom and Sara had one single dinner together. When she realizes he’s not there, she just walks into his house, looks around at all his stuff, and then decides to take a nap on his couch. And when she wakes up, he’s there asleep on the couch with her. What on earth??? Was this supposed to be charming? Because I was entirely creeped out by all of it.
SO. To wrap things up, this absolutely wasn’t the book for me at all. I didn’t find it plausible from any angle, and that rendered the entire story unenjoyable for me. It’s not often that I’m actually glad to be finished with a book, but I breathed a massive sigh of relief last night when I turned the last page.
I’m not quite sure what made this a book about a book club; I’m going to assume that whoever added that to the list of choices counted Sara and Amy’s correspondence (Amy’s letters to Sara are interspersed between chapters) as their own two-person book club. That part was charming; their friendship and mutual love of books were both delightful, or at least Amy’s part of it was. Sara’s letters aren’t shown, but maybe she displayed more personality in those than she did in her daily life. I certainly hope so, because otherwise I’m not sure why Amy considered her to be such a wonderful friend.
Have you read this? Did you enjoy it? I’d love to hear your thoughts, because this didn’t work for me at all.