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

The Storied Life of A J Fikry

‘Sometimes books don’t find us until the right time’.

I rarely re-read books because let’s face it, there are just too many new things out there to read. I found this book by chance in the library last year and it was absolutely a case of ‘right book, right time’. So much so that I jumped at the chance to re-read it and review it for the publisher this year. AND I’ve chosen it as my book club book of the month – I hope the group like it as much as I do.

What the blurb says:

“Who the hell are you?” A.J. asks the baby.
For no apparent reason, she stops crying and smiles at him. “Maya,” she answers.
That was easy, A.J. thinks. “How old are you?” he asks.
Maya holds up two fingers.
“You’re two?”
Maya smiles again and holds up her arms to him.”

A.J. Fikry, the grumpy owner of Island Books, is going through a hard time: his bookshop is failing, he has lost his beloved wife, and a prized rare first edition has been stolen.
But one day A.J. finds two-year-old Maya sitting on the bookshop floor, with a note attached to her asking the owner to look after her. His life – and Maya’s – is changed forever.

If you’re a parent or a booklover, or a booklover parent – this book is for you.

You just can’t help but love Ajay. Even his grumpiness is endearing – eventually – once you’ve seen him with Maya and Amelia is also fantastically, unconventionally fabulous: ‘She had looked like a time traveller from 1990s Seattle with her anchor-printed galoshes and her floral grandma dress…’ You’ve got to admire her dating technique: ‘Amelia had not allowed herself to be certain until dessert, when she’d asked him about the book that had to greatest influence on his life and he’d replied Principles of Accounting, Part II’.

Maya is simply adorable; so smart and sweet in her childlike observations: ‘The store is fifteen Mayas wide and twenty Mayas long… It is fortunate that it is not more than thirty Mayas long because that is as far as she could count on the day the measurements were taken’. I challenge any reader not re-live some of the magic in discovering books and bookshops for the first time through her: ‘The place Maya loves most is downstairs because downstairs is the store, and the store is the best place in the world’.

Incredibly, the novel manages to deal with the themes of love, death, grief and parenthood without once becoming sentimental or overly saccharine. In fact, this book is honest, forthright and FUNNY! I actually chuckled out loud – more than once: ‘A.J. has never changed a diaper in his life though he is a modestly skilled gift wrapper’ and in describing his long-suffering sister –in-law: ‘Pregnant, she is like a very pretty Gollum’. I just chuckled again 😉

But even more than that, there are so many acute observations in this novel (particularly for readers) that had me nodding my head frantically. A few of my favourites:

‘Remember, Maya, the things we respond to at twenty are not necessarily the same things we will respond to at forty and vice versa’.

‘I assure you that prize-winning can be somewhat important for sales but rarely matters much in terms of quality’.

‘Infinite Jest is an endurance contest. You manage to get through it and you have no choice but to say you like it. Otherwise, you have to deal with the fact that you just wasted weeks of your life’.

Oh yes indeed!

The story is simple but Zevin ensures it is utterly endearing. I guess it was ‘right book, right time’ again this year.

‘You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question: What is our favourite book’.

Only £3.99 on kindle at the moment: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

NB: This was previously published as The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry.

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