Book Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

If you like to get to know people by asking them about their favorite books, read this. Take it to the beach and devour it in an afternoon; revel in its tidy celebrations of the transformative power of love and the power of a good book.

A.J. Fikry owns a struggling independent book store on (fictional) Alice Island, off the coast of Massachusetts. His wife has died in a car accident. His grief has isolated him, made him drink too much red wine, and hardened his sharp edges.

He is a bit of a book snob. Princeton educated, Fikry doesn’t just stock any old book in Island Books (“No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World”). When he meets Amelia, the new, young, and idealistic (yes, eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep on her first trip to Alice Island, he is pressed to share this litany of his old-fashioned sensibilities:

“I do not like postmodernism, post­apocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic realism. I rarely respond to supposedly clever formal devices, multiple fonts, pictures where they shouldn’t be — basically gimmicks of any kind. . . . I do not like genre mash-ups à la the literary detective novel or the literary fantasy. Literary should be literary, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything satisfying. I do not like children’s books, especially ones with orphans, and I prefer not to clutter my shelves with young adult. I do not like anything over four hundred pages or under one hundred fifty pages. I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items, and — I imagine this goes without saying — vampires.”

Two tipping points of the story follow this painful and awkward first encounter with Amelia: a rare first edition of Poe poems is stolen from the bookstore; and then, a mystery package is left there, and Fikry must contend with it. These two events are the starting points for his new path forward.

I loved the way that Zevin starts each chapter with one of Fikry’s bookstore “shelf reviews.” These are just as enjoyable as the plot itself; they reflect his changing literary sensibilities and emotional changes as he let go of his grief and allows love back in to his life. Zevin skillfully makes books and stories an integral part of this transformation.

Review by Roberta Jordan, Outreach and Instruction Librarian.

To request a copy, click here.

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