Recommendation Tuesday: The Storied Life of A.J. Firky by Gabrielle Zevin
Y'all, last week, I put on my crown and declared that Tuesdays are now "Recommendation Tuesday." I will be recommending things on Tuesdays, because Tuesday is pretty much worthless and we all need more awesome in our lives. You're welcome to join the fun too. Tweet me at @FullShelves and I'll help spread the word.
Gabrielle Zevin snuck up on me (metaphorically) and managed to snatch a spot on my forever auto-buy favorite authors list. I'm not sure how it happened, but her writing has a quality to it that sticks with my long after I've closed the covers of her books.
Her gripping futuristic family saga, the Birthright series, is a remarkable character-driven trio of books that is one of my favorite series, full-stop.
Her newest, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is no less awesome, though much different.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is set on a Nantucket-type island, isolated during much of the year thanks to infrequent ferries. Alice Island's lone bookstore, Island Books, is owned by A.J. Fikry, widower whose bookstore is failing and who has isolated himself from from the community.
One day, a baby is abandoned in his store and he's forced to let people in again: The police officer, Lambiase starts dropping in to check on the little girl and ends up getting hooked on thrillers; his sister-in-law who's determined to save him; Amelia, the sales rep from tiny Knightley Press, who's determine to win over AJ and share her enthusiasm for her titles with him, regardless of what he wants.
But me-also-thinks my latterday reaction speaks to the necessity of encountering stories at precisely the right time in our lives. Remember, Maya: 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.
Each chapter opens with reading notes from A.J. about a book. (Like above.) This adds to the overall feeling of whimsy to the story, reminding me of Sarah Addison Allen without the magical realism.
A.J. nods out of politeness, but he doesn’t believe in random acts. He is a reader, and what he believes in is construction. If a gun appears in act one, that gun had better go off by act three. That is to say, what A.J. believes in is narrative.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a book for book people. This is one to give to all the book lovers in your life because it's so clearly written for us. But it's also a book for folks who love heartwarming narratives and who buy into the power of love and community.
It's not without humor and a bit of meta fun-poking either. When Maya, the baby left in A.J.'s store starts high school, one of her classmates is a book blogger and, Reader, we all know this person.
“What do we think?” he asks the class when he’s finished. “Well,” Sarah Pipp says, “no offense, but the dialogue is kind of bad. Like, I get what the person is going for, but why doesn’t the writer use contractions more?” Sarah Pipp reviews books for her blog, The Paisley Unicorn Book Review. She is always bragging about the free books she gets from publishers. “And why third person? Why present tense? It makes the writing seem childish to me.”
I found myself snickering out loud at a more than a few scenes like this. Because in all their passion, book people (and I say this as one) are rather unintentionally hilarious.
There's just so much to love about The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.
The cast of characters is diverse and varied in many ways, both in experiences and background. The setting feels so authentic that you could just step into the pages and be on Alice Island and the relationships' growth just make you believe in everyone: A.J., Maya, Amelia, and my favorite, that police officer, Lambiase, whose story arc is worth a book on his own.
“So,” Ismay says, “what do you do when you aren’t being a cop?”
“Well, believe it or not,” he says shyly, “I read a lot. Maybe you wouldn’t think it’s that much. I know you teach English.”
“What do you read?” Ismay asks.
“Little bit of everything. I started with crime novels. Pretty predictable that, I guess. But then A.J. got me into other kinds of books, too. Literary fiction, I think you’d call it. Some of it doesn’t have enough action for my taste. Kind of embarrassing, but I like young adult. Some of your kids at school probably read that. Plenty of action there and feelings, too. I also read whatever A.J.’s reading. He’s partial to short stories — ”
Put The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry on your to-read list and you won't regret it. It's just the sort of novel to get you out of a funk after a lousy week or to remind you why you loved books to begin with.
Read/listen to this fantastic interview with the author on NPR.
Disclosure: Review copy provided by the publisher.