Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

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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.

I have fallen in love with this book and I want everyone to know about it! When I picked it up I was told that I would love it and I knew it was true within the first few pages. 

A.J. Fikry is not an easy person to get on with. He has particular interests and specific ways of looking at things so if what you're selling doesn't fall into any of his pre-approved categories, then you'd best move on. He conveys his annoyance through sarcasm and dry humour. Sometimes it appears that he just can't bothered to relate to the modern world. Despite his oft abrasive demeanor, the locals don't mind him - he has his thing and people accept that. Then his life is literally changed overnight and thus begins A.J.'s gradual but wondrous change from a grumpy, book snob to beloved member of the small Alice Island community. I was incredibly amused by A.J.'s wit but it was his various insights through his letter writing and growing friendships that captured my heart. One quote in particular had me reflecting on my own life to see how my views have changed as I've grown older. I love that moment when a book becomes personal and impactful.

"...the things we respond to at twenty are not necessarily the same things we will respond to at forty and vice versa. This is true in books and also in life." 
~ A.J.F

A.J. is surrounded by a small but close unit of friends. There is one in particular, police officer, Lambiase whom I thought of as a gentle soul. The budding friendship between these two different personalities is one of the best things about the book. Once again, I can't stress enough how much I felt for the conversations that take place within these pages. Many of them reveal so much about human nature, oftentimes presenting things from a different angle. It's like a "hallelujah" moment whenever an author can describe things or feelings that I find are difficult to put to words. I swear there were times when I felt that Zevin described perfectly what it feels like to love someone so intensely and also to lose so much. 

In many ways, reading this reminded me of another favourite of mine, A Man called Ove. He was also a grumpy man who seemed incapable of accepting the changes that happened around him. And just like Ove, A.J. learns that there's something and someone to live for. Above all, this book embraces the passion for reading and how books can help us understand and relate to the world, something any avid reader will appreciate. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry will work its way into your soul and make a home there!

~ Bel

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