You’re on vacation and visiting a friend who lives in a small town, on an island, outside of New York City. You’re wandering the streets and stumble upon a local bookstore. As you begin to browse through the aisles, you notice that there isn’t a great selection of books. In fact, most of the books are self-help or simply seem picked over. You notice that there isn’t anyone on staff, save for one teenager who’s more interested in her own reading than offering any help to facilitate yours. So, you leave.
About a year later, you find yourself returning to the same bookstore. You figure, what’s the harm, and walk in to give it a second chance. This time, everything has changed. The books are being displayed, and there is a variety of genres with both “New York Times Bestsellers,” as well as a large selection of interesting looking titles that you have never heard of. You notice a book group in the back corner discussing some novel with quite a bit of debate.
Then, a bookseller comes over and introduces himself. It turns out he’s the bookstore owner, and he makes a few suggestions based on what you tell him you like to read. Each title sounds interesting and the synopsis have you hooked. You end up leaving the store with a bag full of treasures that you cannot wait to dive into.
Looking back at the store though, you wonder… What could’ve happened to have made such a drastic turn around with this place? Maybe the store was bought out, and A.J. is the new owner bringing life back into it. Whatever has caused this change, you know it’s a good thing, and it is gratifying to see an independent bookstore flourishing.
Title: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Publication Date: April 1st 2014
Page Count: Hardcover, 260 pages
Genre: Adult Fiction, Contemporary
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.
We are not quite novels.
We are not quite short stories.
In the end, we are collected works.
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 Chief Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward him; from Ismay, his sister-in-law, who is hell-bent on saving A.J. from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who persists in taking the ferry 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, he 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, though large in weight—an unexpected arrival that gives A.J. 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., for the determined sales rep Amelia to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light, 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.
Purchase the Book!
And so The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel goes…
Honestly, from looking at the front cover and reading the synopsis it sounds interesting, but I was not thrilled to dig in. This book was everywhere on #bookstagram and everyone spoke very highly of the book, but sometimes you aren’t in the mood for the genre. However, I had just finished The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater during one of my many plane flights in June and felt like starting another book right away.
By the first page, I was infatuated and knew this was a book that would stick with me forever. I don’t remember the last time I read a novel this quickly. By the time we landed a few hours later, I almost had it finished.
In the beginning of the book, we are introduced to Amelia, who works for a publishing company set to provide the store, Island Books of Alice Island, with their seasonal book list. She finds herself recently promoted and taking over for a deceased book promoter who had a complicated relationship with the Island Books owner. Her introduction to A.J. Fikry is no different, as he rejects any and all of her ideas and starts to push her out the door. However, before she is rudely cast off, she leaves him with one book title, The Late Bloomer.
A.J. is a thirty-nine year old widow living in the space above his book shop. His wife and he had opened the bookstore together as her lifelong dream to return to her hometown and bring the locals great stories. After she died, A.J. lost motivation. Then, one night, he finds that someone has stolen his rare collection of Poe poems, and, a few days later, there is an abandoned baby girl hidden in the children’s book section.
Without spoiling too much of this wonderful story, A.J. adopts the baby and names her Maya. From that point on his life makes a dramatic shift and he begins opening up to the world around him. He decides to read The Late Bloomer and gives Amelia a call, which begins the re-invigoration of the store’s book selection and resulting sales. From there, everything takes off.
This is one of those books that needs to be read.
It is quick, funny, and makes you appreciate the subtleties of life. As an avid book reader, I identify with the dream of owning a bookstore, as well as the dream of working in publishing and helping to select the new reads that will dawn bookshelves across the country. I was inspired by the love and devotion that A.J. provides to both his adopted daughter and his town through his passion for books.
I also loved the addition of poems that Zevin added as a break between chapters. At first it seemed to simply be a page break of sorts, but as you read deeper into the novel you realize that these are poems that Fikry puts together for his daughter Maya. There is something so special about this added element to me, and gives the book a depth that I enjoyed immensely.
In the end, this is one of those stories that breaks your heart and rebuilds it even stronger. It reminds you of the power that books can hold in your life and how they can be bonding mechanisms and healers as well.
As the American novelist, playwright and poet, James Baldwin, said,
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”
If this is not on your TBR list, I recommend adding it. The story is smart, the characters are lovely, and the pace is quick. This has definitely become one of my favorite reads and a story that I will revisit often.
About the Author
GABRIELLE ZEVIN is an internationally bestselling author whose books have sold millions of copies and been translated into over thirty languages.
Her eighth novel, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (2014), spent months on the New York Times Bestseller List, reached #1 on the National Indie Best Seller List, and has been a bestseller all around the world. The Toronto Globe and Mail called the book “a powerful novel about the power of novels.” Her debut, Margarettown, was a selection of the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program. The Hole We’re In was a New York Times Editor’s Choice title.
She has also written books for young readers. Her best known young adult novel is Elsewhere, an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book. Of Elsewhere, the New York Times Book Review wrote, “Every so often a book comes along with a premise so fresh and arresting it seems to exist in a category all its own… Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin, is such a book.”
She is the screenwriter of Conversations with Other Women (Helena Bonham Carter, Aaron Eckhart) for which she received an Independent Spirit Award Nomination for Best First Screenplay. In 2009, she and director Hans Canosa adapted her novel Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac (ALA Best Books for Young Adults) into the Japanese film, Dareka ga Watashi ni Kiss wo Shita. She has occasionally written criticism for the New York Times Book Review and NPR’s All Things Considered, and she began her writing career at age fourteen as a music critic for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.
Zevin is a graduate of Harvard University. She lives in Los Angeles. Her ninth novel is Young Jane Young.
Find her at https://gabriellezevin.com/.