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The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Review

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

At this point, author Gabrielle Zevin's body of work runs quite the gamut --- from acerbic screenplays and satirical fiction for adults to a near-future trilogy for teens. In all of these pursuits, however, Zevin shows herself to be a romantic at heart. And nowhere is that romantic sensibility more apparent than in her latest novel, THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY. The kind of love on display is the sort between lovers and between parents and children, but also, and most essentially, between people and the books they adore.

As in Zevin's other novels, "romantic" should not be confused with "sentimental," for THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY is hardly sentimental or treacly. It opens with the title character on the brink of despair and desperation. A.J. Fikry is the owner and manager of the only bookstore (Island Books, motto: "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World") on Alice Island, a small island off the coast of Massachusetts. His beloved wife has been dead for a little over a year, and he is not-so-subtly trying to drink himself to death, too. A.J. is prickly and curmudgeonly before his time (he's only in his late 40s), the sort of person who seems to believe that stories and books provide more stable relationships than real people do.

"Zevin's touching portrait of a family --- and a community --- brought together around a bookstore makes this the perfect novel to read and savor, and give to all the book lovers in your life."

Two things, though, shake him out of his misery. The first is the theft of his massively valuable copy of Edgar Allan Poe's Tamerlane, his insurance policy in case the bookstore ever went belly-up. And the second is the discovery, in the store's children's book section, of an abandoned toddler named Maya, whose mother has left her with a note: "I want her to grow up to be a reader. I want her to grow up in a place with books and among people who care about those kinds of things."

At first, A.J. is resistant to the idea of raising a child, but when it comes down to it, he'd rather raise her himself, as the mother proposed, than see her land with a foster family who might care more about sports or television than about books and reading. So Maya accompanies A.J. to work at the bookstore each morning (a short commute, since they live in an apartment over the store), and soon she's living the life her mother dreamed of for her, while A.J. is rediscovering how to love and live in the world, not just in the pages of books.

THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY follows A.J. and his small family all the way until Maya is an extremely well-read high schooler, on her way to becoming a writer herself. This broad approach is more about showing the patterns and development of a life (as the title itself suggests) than about tight plot development, although there's certainly some of that here, too. Each chapter opens with a mini-review of a book or short story, written from the point of view of A.J. recommending these works to Maya. In addition to these more overt book discussions, Zevin's novel is full of references and allusions to literature (including one to her own YA book, ELSEWHERE).

Zevin's touching portrait of a family --- and a community --- brought together around a bookstore makes this the perfect novel to read and savor, and give to all the book lovers in your life.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on April 5, 2014

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

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2014
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books
  • ISBN-10: 1616203218
  • ISBN-13: 9781616203214