Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Book Review - The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Title: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Series?: No
Pages: 258 pages
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Dates read: Dec. 11th-14th 2014 (ebook)
Goodreads Synopsis:
Hanging over the porch of the tiny New England bookstore called Island Books is a faded sign with 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. 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. 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 him or for a determined sales rep named Amelia to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light. The wisdom of all those books again become the lifeblood of A.J.’s world and everything twists 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.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
**This review may contain spoilers**

A.J. Fikry is one of those books that I didn’t really know how to feel about after I read it. (Which is part of the reason why this review took so long - I actually finished it on Dec. 14th). A.J. Fikry is, first an foremost, a book about loving to read. This is the premise that interested me the most in this book. A.J. Fikry is a widowed bookseller who has been feeling bitter towards the beginning of the novel because his wife has just died. Over the course of the story, we see him grow and change into someone kinder and, even if you don’t like him at the beginning, A.J. Fikry ends up being a great character, one of those that you don’t want to leave behind.

The strongest thing about A.J. Fikry is definitely its writing. I’ve been a fan of Gabrielle Zevin’s writing ever since I read Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac back in 2009 or 2010 (wow that feels like a long time ago) and her Birthright series is one of my favourite. The storytelling is just amazing. Yeah, it can seem a bit shallow at times, and there are some references slipped in just for the sake of references but overall, it was really enjoyable. It made me feel what was happening in the story. I felt happy when A.J. decided to adopt Maya, I felt disappointed at the scene with Leon Lassiter and… I cried like the big baby I am at the ending. And to me, a book that makes you feel that is always a good one.

The characters are where I start having mixed feelings. I really liked A.J. Yes, he’s a jerk and somewhat bitter, but considering the kind of stuff he went through before the beginning of the story, it’s understandable why he is that way. Once Maya comes into his life, and Amelia afterwards, he softens up. The thing is though… after A.J. (and Officer Lambiase, on whom I could read an entire book), the characters just don’t do that much for me. Maya was cute when she was young, but once there’s a time skip and she becomes a teenager, she feels very pretentious and doesn’t very much seem like an actual teenager. Amelia was fun, but there was also nothing much that stood out about her. Ismay and Daniel were kind of irrelevant [spoiler alert next] and Daniel’s death had no real impact, in my opinion. Yes, it shocked, but in the end, it didn’t affect A.J. or his family. It impacted Ismay, and then again, only minorly - it only gives her the opportunity to date Lambiase at the end.

So, what is my final opinion of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry? It’s a good book. It has a wonderful story, with a main character that is interesting and dynamic. But after that… there isn’t much else to it. There isn’t anything that made me think back to it once I was finished. But while I was reading it, it made me feel for its characters. I felt like I was actually inside the story. However, thinking back, the characters were very two-dimensional and not very deep.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry Is not the greatest book ever written. But if you’re looking for a book to read on a plane-ride or as a holiday read with a well-written, lovely story about loving books, then A.J. Fikry is perfect for you. However, if you’re one for a cast of characters that are all unique and well-developped, three-dimensional people, this might be one you want to skip.

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