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

thestoriedlifeofajfikryAbout The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

• Book Club: April 2017 
• Hardcover: 
260 pages
• Published: April 2014 by Algonquin Books
• Source: Purchased

Goodreads DescriptionOn 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.

Why We Picked It

First of all, sorry for yesterday’s goof about the Jenny Lawson review. That was a very old post from my other blog, and I was actually trying to take it down, not publish it again! I’ve got a lot of old reviews that I’d like to go back and fix, so you’ll see that post again eventually. Thanks for bearing with me while I figure out this whole WordPress thing. Anyway, book club.

Our theme for April was Fun and Fresh. We left that open to interpretation, which meant we had a really hard time choosing a book. We also didn’t want a love story, since one of the girls was in a funk about men. (Totally understandable.) We sort of hemmed and hawed for a while, then finally settled on The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry since it was short and sounded like it would be a fun read.

My Thoughts

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is about a man (A.J.) who, having just lost his wife, owns a bookstore on Alice Island. He’s grumpy, and generally unpleasant to be around. His bookstore is barely surviving, and he’s essentially counting down the days until he can be done with it all. Then one evening, someone leaves a baby in his bookstore (that’s the package – I don’t think it’s a spoiler), and life as he knows it changes. He decides to keep the baby, raise her as his daughter. Gradually he begins to love life again.

I hate to say it, but this one fell a little short for me. I wanted to read it for a long time, and I know several people who loved it. I really enjoyed Gabrielle Zevin’s Elsewhere. Plus, I’ve seen it compared to A Man Called Ove, and we all know how much I adore that book. Maybe my expectations were too high.

I didn’t have any major complaints with the book, but I couldn’t connect with the characters. I liked them all well enough, but I didn’t feel anything for them. The whole book was just sorta “there” for me. I also struggled to create a clear picture of A.J – for example, he’s only 39 in the beginning of the book, but I constantly had him in his mid-sixties in my mind. Zevin didn’t really describe him physically, either, which struck me as strange since every other character was.

I also struggled with some of the story’s continuity. Amelia’s story has a lot of holes. Because she’s such an important part of A.J.’s story, I wanted those holes resolved. And Maya, the bookstore baby, is another central part of A.J.’s life, but seems a shell of a character. I honestly thought some of the tertiary characters, like Lambiase, were better developed.

Overall, it’s a short read that probably falls closer to a 2.5 for me, but I’ll go ahead and give it a 3.

Book Club Discussion

We all enjoyed the book, but the rest of the girls had similar grievances about how undeveloped the characters were. One girl called them one-dimensional – she’s spot on. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – again, it’s a quick, light read. We agreed that part of the problem is the marketing for the book. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry tends to be heralded as a moving, emotional, heartwarming read, but in our opinion, the characters lack the depth to really deliver on those claims. Perhaps the best thing we hit on in our discussion was that we’d have enjoyed this book more if it’d been written as a Young Adult book, because you expect that kind of flatness in a lot of those novels.

Also, a heads up for anyone considering this one for your own Book Club – the discussion questions are absolutely terrible. My favorite was easily the one that compared ebook buying to online dating. *Grin*

None of us would discourage anyone from reading The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry – just know going into it that you’re getting more of a fluff read. Nothing wrong with that!

May’s Book Club Theme: Young Adult

May’s Book Club Book: The Hate U Give

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