Friday, June 6, 2014

Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

 As an avid reader, librarian, and book reviewer, I love books about books, booksellers, and book stores.  In this one, bookstore owner A.J. Fikry, still mourning the death of his wife, sees no reason to continue running the bookstore they managed together, until one evening he finds a young child sitting on the floor of his store, accompanied by a note pinned on an Elmo doll: "This is Maya.  She is twenty-five months old.  She is VERY SMART, exceptionally verbal for her age, and a sweet good girl.  I want her to grow up to be a reader.....I love her very much but I can no longer take care of her." It is signed by "her loving mother."  After an initial reaction of denial on A.J.'s part, Maya's obvious precociousness wins him over and he suddenly has a reason to live, although he still despairs of all the modernity that is fast overtaking the book world.

As the years pass,  A.J. teaches Maya about books and literature while Maya teaches A.J. about life, love and belonging.  As Maya moves gracefully into adulthood, A.J. is able to re-connect with community members and rebuild his broken life.  The bookstore again becomes the vibrant center of the town it was originally intended to be.

This could have been a very trite book.  Instead, Zevin has developed the tale around a series of "stories" about Fikry's life, each framed as a short essay or excerpt from various literary classics, such as The Luck of Roaring Camp, A Diamond as Big as the Ritz, The Tell Tale Heart, etc. The technique is stunning.  The story is heartwarming, the characters are charming.  It is a very positive love story but it is not saccharin.  Life and reality often intrude.  There are episodes of great anxiety, loss, grief, and despair.  But there are equal episodes of hope, joy, love and affirmation.

This is definitely going to be on my list as one of my favorites of the year.

Title: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Publisher: Algonquin Books (2014), e galley, 272 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Subject: bookstores, adoption
Source: Review copy from publisher via Net Galley

1 comment:

  1. I have a copy of this waiting for me at the library -- sounds so good. Hope you are enjoying your summer.


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