I read The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin over a year ago and really enjoyed it. Recently, my book club read this book as well. Again, I really liked the book, but I find it really difficult to explain why. It's one of those books that just gives you that warm, nice, "can't put it down" kind of feeling. It's just lovely. Since books like this don't come along too often for me, I felt the need to share.
There are very few books out there like this one. A lot of books have characters who are book lovers, or the book is set in a bookstore or library. Obviously, being a librarian, I tend to enjoy these types of books. Lucky for me, they are in abundance. However, very few books have characters quite as opinionated as A.J., who is truly one of a kind. Being a book person (that is a person who loves books, not one who is comprised of them), I really love seeing picky readers, and boy is A.J. picky. At one point early on in the story, he chooses to list the things he does not like in books rather than list what he likes. (This is where the book hooked me in fact.)
Onto the story description: A.J. Fikry is an assertive, depressed, widowed bookstore owner on a tiny island in New England. When we come to know him, A.J. is one of those crotchety old men who hates everything and everyone, spends his evenings drinking himself to death, and basically scares off anyone who tries to help. However, he's only 39, too young to have given up on life. A.J. was dealt a bad hand though. He'd moved to the island to be with his late wife and open his bookstore, but when she was killed, he was then physically and emotionally isolated. It wasn't until another major loss occurred that A.J. started to turn everything around.
When A.J. finally starts to get his life together again, he returns to his store to find that someone has left him something very strange that will change his life forever. The book then follows his journey as he changes and grows over the next 13 years or so. There's a lot that happens: death, love, and secrets! (And that's all I'll say about the plot. Go read it!)
Over the course of the book, we get to know not only A.J., but also the different people who involve themselves in his life: the police chief for the island, A.J.'s sister-in-law, a little girl at the bookstore, and a representative from a small publishing house. These different perspectives not only add depth to the book, but also to the character of A.J., who is complex and grumpy, but lovable.
The book was reminiscent of a fairy tale to me. Things happen to A.J. that seem like happenstance, but are truly fate. Even when A.J. is at his worst, somehow, his life turns around and it turns out that some good has come from it. Everything in this book feels fated, and things just seem to work out in the end in a way that makes it seem like that is where we were heading the whole time. It's a difficult this to explain, but the whole book is kind of a puzzle, always meant to fit the way it does.
I very much enjoyed this book, and this was my second read-through. I recommend it to people who love books and talking books. Even though some not-so-nice stuff happens over the course of the book (as in life) it still is just a sweet, nice read, in my opinion.
Go on now. Read it!