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

A.J. FikryAdmittedly, this was a book I brushed aside thinking it would be too much of a cozy read. Something soft and boring that didn’t really challenge me. But then a friend recommended it to me, told me it was about a guy who owned a bookstore, so I figured I’d give it a try. And go figure, I really liked it.

When I mentioned I was reading it to another friend of mine, she told me it was a modern retelling of some old tale, the name of which I forget now. The premise of the story is sweet enough: a curmudgeonly hermit is drawn out of his seclusion and self-destructive lifestyle when a child is left to him and he decides to keep her. And his life turns around for the better. But what I think the book is really about is not the power children have to change your life, but the power that bookstores have to change your life. Doesn’t that sound like more fun?

This book relies heavily on character development to move the story forward. Not much happens action-wise to drive the plot. But you become invested enough in the characters that you want to keep reading even though nothing much takes place outside the tiny island of Alice.

There are a variety of characters, each with interesting back stories that criss-cross with one another’s, help build their personalities, and explain their motivations. There is love, unhappy marriages, an unfortunate death, robbery. But even with all the bad things that happen to the characters, good things come along in the end.

Each chapter is headed with a brief sort of book review for various stories. At first, I just thought this was a fun little idea the author had added since the main character owns a bookstore and most of the story takes place there. But then, something is reveled at the end (which I won’t spoil) and it explains exactly what those little book review sort of things were and it just broke my heart! I mean, the whole end was pretty heart-breaking. However, there was a silver lining.

Again, I won’t get into specifics as I don’t want to spoil anything, but hopefully what I say next will make sense once you read the book.

The book ends the way it begins. There is a cyclic nature, a sort of pattern that is being created and the bookstore is right at the heart of it. Bookstores, like people, and like books for that matter, often come into your life at just the right time. And when they do, they can completely change your life, usually for the better.

As I finished the last page and closed the book, I felt a tightness in my chest, like my skin and bones were working extra hard to keep all the love from exploding out of my body. Everyone should have a bookstore they feel at home in. Bookstores, and the people in them, have a touch of magic to them that makes life better. I hope you all have a bookstore you love.

~Ren

(As an after thought: I also really enjoyed the book as I myself work in a bookstore and I enjoyed all the ‘inside bookstore humor’ as it were.)

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