Title: The Storied Life of AJ Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Length: 258 pages
Published in: 2014
Source: borrowed from library
Reason for Reading: Local library book club
Summary (from Goodreads):
On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto “No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World.” A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.
A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.
And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.
My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. A lot of the ladies at my book club said that it was like a “fairy tale” in that there was not a whole lot that was realistic about it. Like, there was so much big stuff that happens to just the one character, but hey–it is called the life of AJ Fikry, so who is it supposed to be about?? And I think something that the main character said towards the end of the book kind of spoke to this: “In the end, we are all collected works…there are no collections where each story is perfect. Some hits. Some misses. If you’re lucky, a standout” (p249).
As for the reality of the stuff that happens in the story, I’ll give them that. But I think perhaps the point was to make the story flow better and not go into the nitty gritty details of how an adoption takes place or how an almost-failing bookstore manages to hang on. The story skipped around a little, but I liked that Zevin just let the reader imagine what happened in the skip. She didn’t mention that such and such happened, then this and that happened, and here we are now–it was a clean skip from one part to another and it was assumed the reader could use the context of the story to fill in the gaps. So I think that accounts for some of the reality that was left out. And is it really a bad thing that some of the heavier, “real” stuff was left out? Makes for a lighter story.
I really liked something Zevin wrote towards the beginning of the story: “The things we respond to at 20 are not necessarily the same things we respond to at 40 and vice versa” (p41). AJ, the main character, was talking about reading books and the impact they have on us. And I think that is so true, of things other than books even. I’ve always enjoyed reading, but some things I read at a younger age I didn’t understand and even now have read a few times since, and I still find something new in them each time.
One last thing, I really liked the ending of this story…
INCLUDES SPOILERS FOR THIS BOOK AND FOR ELSEWHERE, BOTH BY GABRIELLE ZEVIN
So, at the end of the book, AJ dies tragically of a very rare type of brain cancer. Normally this would make me a little sad. However, the entire premise of Zevin’s earlier book Elsewhere was that a teenage girl died and went to Elsewhere, Zevin’s version of heaven. When you die, you ride a ship to Elsewhere, where you “live” and age backwards from the age at which you died. Once you become 0 you are “reborn” into the world (with no memory of your previous life or time spent in Elsewhere). Anyways, that concept of heaven made it easier to cope with AJ’s death because I just pictured him in another book’s plot and then I started thinking about what his life in Elsewhere would be like before he was reborn. Anyways, that’s that…