The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014
There's only one word that comes to mind when thinking about this novel: charming. A sweet ode to book lovers and book people, Gabrielle Zevin creates a Stars Hollow-esque town and a cast who all share one thing in common: a connection to perhaps the world's grumpiest man.
When readers meet the titular AJ Fikry, his life goes from awful to just about unbearable. Never a particularly kind man before, now he is still mourning the loss of his wife, his copy of Tamerlane (a very rare collection of poetry by Edgar Alan Poe) has been stolen, and someone has left a baby in his bookstore. But rather than toddler Maya being the straw that breaks the camel's back, she becomes the thing that returns AJ to the land of the living. What unfolds from there is a tale about second chances, turning wrongs into rights, opening up to the world, and discovering that the things that are worth the most in this life can't be measured by a price tag.
I'm always impressed when a story can be carried by an unlikable protagonist. Not to say that AJ is unlikable, neccesarily. Let's say prickly. Or set in his ways. Or closed off. As such, the growth that we see through is relationship with his adopted daughter, his sister-in-law, his friendship with the police chief, and his growing crush on Amelia, a young bookseller from a small publishing company, that change is always possible. Here is a story where every single character is flawed, everyone makes mistakes, and everyone has something to lose, but hope is never too far away. There truly are no people like book people, and each of us is a living, breathing story.
I really enjoyed reading this book over the course of several mornings while I ate my breakfast as it allowed me to start my day with a bit more spring in my step. If you liked Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, I think you'll be similarly enchanted with this novel. I'd be remissed if I didn't include this lovely sentiment from this book: "We are not quite novels...We are not quite short stories...In the end, we are collected works."
Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.
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