Monday, June 2, 2014
Book Review: The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Enjoyment Rating: *****
Content Alert: Mild language
A couple of mornings ago, I went out for a long run with nothing but my audiobook to keep me company. A couple of hours later, I found myself running up the big hill near the zoo on Sunnyside, and I looked like a maniac. Tears were streaming down my face, and I'm pretty sure I was hyperventilating. And yes, the hill is big and the wind was blowing in my face, but that wasn't why I was crying. It was because I'd come to the end of The Storied Life of AJ Fikry, a happy/sad kind of novel, and I wasn't exactly sure if I was crying because of the poignancy of the ending or because I didn't want it to be over.
When the book opens, AJ Fikry is the crank who runs Island Books, the only bookstore on Alice Island (which seems to resemble Martha's Vineyard). His typical day is to terrorize employees and publishers' reps, to snarl at customers, and to drink himself to sleep at night. All of this bad behavior is only excusable because AJ is a recent widower, but regardless of that fact, he's a jerk. Then, one night, he's robbed of his only possession worth anything, which leads him to leave the door of his bookstore unlocked, which leads to a young woman leaving him a baby to raise, which changes everything. Fikry soon finds his life, which was once difficult and depressing, full of people and surprises, and, of course, books.
If you love books like I love books, you'll love this one. The story itself, while very well-constructed and written in a way that keeps you reading, is fairly predictable. I knew who AJ would end up with by the end of the first chapter. But you'll keep reading because you'll want to inhabit a world where people love stories as much as you do-- where AJ starts the police chief reading dime-store potboilers and pretty soon he's reading The House of Sand and Fog. I love that AJ communicates with his daughter through the notes he writes her about different novels and short stories, and that the existence of his bookstore really does seem to make Alice Island as a whole a better place to be. This would be a great book club read. It's the first novel I've read by Zevin, who has formerly written mainly YA, but it won't be the last.