Book Review: “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” by Gabrielle Zevin

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I started reading The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin with little idea of what it was about – but even the little bit that I knew made it sound like an intriguing read. The jacket copy thrown around on the internet was enticingly vague:

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.

A bookstore, you say? A rare book of poetry, you say? Sign me up! Still, upon opening it’s pages I was still unsure what sort of arc the story of A.J. Fikry and his bookstore would take. It sounded as though it could be a mystery, the sort where a seasoned bookseller uses clues from the novels he loves to track down the thief that stole his prized possession, or maybe, judging from the baby in a basket on the front cover, a tale of magical realism, one in which Fikry came alive out of a book as an infant only to find tragedy. What I found was something equally enjoyable, though entirely unexpected – a treasure for lovers of reading and heartwarming stories. If that sounds like your cup of tea, you should take my word for it and go out and buy this book without reading the rest of this review. For those of you who are not quite yet convinced, read on, but be warned that there are a few (very) slight spoilers ahead.

The book opens pretty much as promised, with curmudgeonly literary bookseller A.J. Fikry still reeling from the death of his wife two years previously, and his one treasured possession, a copy of Tamerlane, Edgar Allen Poe’s extremely rare first-ever published work, stolen by the second chapter. But from there, an element I did not expect was introduced (and my egregious misreading of the dust jacket’s cover art revealed): a baby is abandoned inside Fikry’s store, and despite the fact that he is an aging, emotionally distraught, and financially unstable widower, he decides to adopt the child, a little girl named Maya. As he cares for Maya, A.J. begins to let the world in again. His heart opens first to Maya, then to the people of the island on which he lives, and, finally, to the idea of loving again.

Fikry’s journey, already a compulsively readable tale about the buoyancy of the human heart, is made all the better by the novel’s unabashed engagement in the literary world. Here in these pages are many of those familiar scenes those in the industry know best: a galley-flooded basement of an indie bookstore, an underpaid, overenthusiastic young person just getting their start in publishing, and, most important of all, the unquestioned fundamental relevance of books to our engagement with other people and with the world around us.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is not a literary masterpiece – it’s a love letter to print books and the people who still buy them, who still breathe in their musty scent and thumb lovingly to favorite passages in well-worn paperbacks. If heart is something you look for in a good read, then trust me – by the last page, you’ll be swooning.

This book review was brought to you by MuggleNet Senior Staff Writer Jessica. A copy of this book was provided by Algonquin for review.