“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.”~Goodreads
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry has to be one of the BEST books I have read this year. I’ll take it one step further…this is one of “those books” that I will forever reference when someone asks, “what should I read next?” I went through the 8 Steps of Book Obsession, perfectly written on E Online the other day, and then some. I received the unedited ARC while on vacation the first week of April (released the same week) but I was elbow deep with Rebecca and some lighter beachy romances. I’m so glad I waited to return home to read it because it would have ruined my vacation by not being able to talk to anyone about it. Not to mention all the emotions I went through while reading it. And I promise you this review will be far from eloquent, just a rambling amongst reading friends.
No, it’s not one of those draining tear jerkers, I promise you. It’s one of those books when you begin, you know right away you are in for something special. You want to devour it like a glutton but at the same time you want to savor every bite because it’s only 230 pages. You find yourself sighing and smiling and chuckling and tearing up and highlighting and in absolute awe of this writer. You find yourself eyeballing it on your counter with a sideways glance, speaking to you like “The Tale Tell Heart”. But you ignore it and wipe off the counters or check your email again because it’s almost over and you can’t bear to leave these characters and this fictional place where you feel you belong.
This fictional place of Alice Island is where A.J. Fikry lives. The curmudgeonly owner of Island Books is a book snob and has no problem relaying that information to customers and locals from town. But as rude and obnoxious as he seems at first, his honesty and vulnerability propels the reader to root for him. He prefers short stories and before each chapter he reviews one of his favorites as a tie-in to the chapter. (Of course, I was highlighting and making a list of all these short stories I now have to read) The entire cast of characters beautifully support and enhance this story from local townies with few lines to Officer Lambiase and Amelia, who steal scene after scene. But that is all I can tell you. Not because there is some major plot twist (some nice surprises, yes) but this story has to unfold organically while you read it. You’ll see.
So….there are well developed quirky characters, a tightly written storyline, references to short stories and literature, loving relationships between friends and family and some of the best dialogue between characters I have ever read. Why is it so special? It’s a story about books. The love and obsession for books. The feel, weight and smell of them. The way they fill you up and keep you company when alone. The way they take you to a foreign place when you can’t leave where you are. This cast of nerdy bookworms are proud of their affinity for literature and don’t apologize. There is also the sad reminder of the struggle and necessity of the independent bookstore. All those bookish feels.
So that’s it. I was buzzing around the house last night after finishing it. I was up at 4am, restless about what I was going to post. And now I am off to the store to buy multiple copies of the finished and edited book. One to keep for myself to re-read and store on my bookshelf with other treasures and one copy to pass around to my bookish friends as I insist they read it. I’ll leave you with one quote from A.J.,
“Why is any one book different from any other book? They are different, A.J. decides, because they are. We have to look inside many. We have to believe. We agree to be disappointed sometimes so that we can be exhilarated every now and again.”
I am exhilarated again.
*Thank you to NetGalley and Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill for this profound advance reader’s copy. I was not compensated or required to review this beautiful book.
For more information about Gabrielle Zevin, please visit her website here.