Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry
Gabrielle Zevin
5 / 5

Published 2014

First Sentence
"On the ferry from Hyannis to Alice Island, Amelia Loman paints her nails yellow and, while waiting for them to dry, skims her predecessor's notes."
Publisher's Description:
On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who's always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.'s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It's a small package, but large in weight. It's that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn't take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.'s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn't see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

Dear Reader,

I adored this book. Maybe it's just that I have a definite soft spot for books about books & booksellers, but I certainly was not alone in loving this sweet little novel. I think it was great because while it was definitely modern, it retained that "timeless classic" feel in many ways. I am smitten with books that can do that well.

The story begins by focusing on Amelia, a young new employee of a publishing house. She is on a ferry, en route to a sales call at a small bookstore; her job is to pitch the upcoming season's books. She is shocked by the rude reception she receives at A.J. Fikry's shop, but is unaware of all that is going on with the older man: he has recently lost his wife, and is feeling desperate and alone and terribly unhappy. Unfortunately, he takes this out on Amelia, and so clearly her first impression is not a good one.

The book's focus then moves from Amelia to A.J., and follows the man after he leaves the meeting. The reader watches his lonesome and solitary existence as he continues to mourn his wife and seems at a loss as to what to do with himself, aside from drinking every day away. But things begin to change as first Fikry suffers a bit of misfortune, which brings him unexpectedly out of his shell and kindles a new friendship. Then, he is even more startled out of his complacency by the surprise of a toddler left in his bookshop, a note pinned to her, requesting that she be taken good care of. Unexpectedly, Fikry is charmed by the young girl and ultimately becomes her father. Because of this new responsibility, he really begins to live once again, interacting once again with the island and even with Amelia. One of my absolute favorite scenes is the pair's reunion meeting at The Pequod restaurant: their banter charmed me so thoroughly.

The great thing about this book is that it isn't just a story about love and redemption, it's also got a little bit of mystery tied in with it. The story behind the child's appearance doesn't really get resolved for quite some time, which doesn't really matter - the reader isn't sitting on the edge of their seat waiting for the reveal - but it is an intriguing little background to the bigger story unfolding, that of the creation anew of a family, and a life.

If you are a book lover, you will also adore how every chapter begins with a small review written from A.J. to his daughter, Maya. It's a wonderful way to start each section, and I found myself adding a few more books to my to-read list!


The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

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