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

This book was recommended to me and having read it, I am delighted I listened and decided to make it a book club choice.  The story revolves around the life of a man, A.J. Fikry, who runs a book shop on an island near Hyannis in Massachusetts.  His bookshop is not doing particularly well and he is a bit of a literary snob, so he isn’t great at catering for the masses or indeed making an effort to sell them what they might like. He is at an exceptionally low point in his life when we first meet him.  He is grieving the loss of his wife, who tragically died two years previously. He is drinking too much and he is pretty much one step away from a breakdown.  Only for the support and love of his sister in law, Ismay, he would be sunk.  Life goes from bad to worse, when the only valuable item he owns, a first edition copy of  Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘Tamerlane’ is stolen one night when he is in a drunken stupor.   We forget about this during the telling of the rest of the story, but there is a twist which we are to discover later. We then meet the second main character of the story, Amelia, who is the sales rep for a book company.  When she first meets A.J, he is exceptionally rude to her and it seems they are doomed never to get along.  However as the story develops, so too does their relationship.  But it is when an abandoned baby called Maya is left in his bookstore that A.J.’s life really changes.

There are moments of tragedy and joy throughout the story, as we follow the lives of A.J., Maya, Amelia and the people surrounding them, such as Daniel, the smug self satisfied writer who is married to A.J’s sister-in-law, Ismay.  Their story is secondary to the story of A.J., Amelia and Maya, but is no less interesting for that.

This book for me was a complete joy from start to finish.  The story is told with humour, warmth and a touching sincerity.  It’s all about books, so if you are a bookworm, then it should definitely warm your heart.  I would describe this as the perfect holiday read.  It is lighthearted, takes next to no concentration to read, and leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling.    Zevin’s gift is in her ability to make  you fall in love with the characters, and to feel empathy for A.J. and also Amelia.  You are plugging for them from the start (well I was anyway).   The author also introduces other interesting characters, such as Chief Lambiase, who again, is one of those people you just can’t help but like.  The story portrays life on a small island as idyllic, with a close knit community who all know your business, but are there to support you.  At times for me, the story was a little ‘too’ perfect, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of it.   I particularly liked the book recommendations for Maya at the beginning of every chapter, and indeed made a note of a couple of the books to read myself!

I would highly recommend this book as a lighthearted, warm, funny, ideal holiday read.   If you love books and bookshops, it may also just make you want to go and open one!