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!

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3 thoughts on “Review of ‘The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry’ by Gabrielle Zevin

  1. Am afraid it is some time since I read this book, but I really enjoyed it, too. It definitely left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling – guess I’m just a sucker for a happy ending!
    Highly recommended as a holiday read! X

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Corinne. A very interesting assessment of the book. I absolutely love your idea of John Goodman (love him!) for Chief Lambiase in the movie version and Hugh Grant would make a perfect Daniel, I agree. Funny, I don’t remember the ending being particularly rushed, but I do agree that the author could have made more of the ending and what happened to the family. Yes, upon reflection, perhaps that’s how it was….rushed! Anyway, glad you took a wee break from your thrillers and enjoyed something different!

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  3. As usual, I completely agree with your assessment, Justine. I really enjoyed this book. It is not one I had heard of until Book Club – and it is not necessarily one I would have selected from the book shelves myself. But having started it, I was delighted by it. It may not be the most challenging of reads but it certainly warms the heart. For me it is a book about love – of books, within relationships of all kinds (romantic, parental, friendship and family), from the community. Our unlikely hero, AJ eventually came to discover and enjoy all three. I loved the characters, particularly Chief Lambiase (who, in my mind, needs to be played by John Goodman should the book ever be made into a film. The hateful Daniel needs to be Hugh Grant – think Daniel Clever from Bridget Jones’ Diary. Charming, good looking but self-serving, smug and lazy).

    The ending left me a little dissatisfied. I don’t mean the plot outcome but by the delivery. The last couple of chapters felt a little abrupt, and I think the author missed to opportunity to turn this into a real tearjerker, and to really reinforce the relationships in the Fikery household at least. There was a tear in my eye, don’t get me wrong, but the final scenes felt a little rushed. Almost like the author was in an exam hall and needed to get it finished within the last few minutes.

    That said, I enjoyed the book, and I am very glad to have read it. Like you Justine, I liked AJ’s recommendations to Maya…and plan to steal a few for myself.

    Good choice for a summer read. Thank you.

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