Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry


On 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.

Technically, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is not a Young Adult book, but then, technically, I don’t always read YA books. I think, however, that The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry kind of blurs the line between YA and adult. In fact, what really makes a book YA and not adult or vice versa? I’ve always thought that an adult book deals with really harsh themes, may have some kind of deeper meaning, or perhaps does not include a love story between two characters that develops with every page. But The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is not that much of a really “confusing” or “deeper” read, and I think that it is definitely a suitable book for mature YA readers.

The thing I really like about The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is the fact that the plot develops so extremely quickly. Every page, something happens, every chapter, a character is introduced or another killed off (yes, people die *sigh*).The first 70 pages or so move like a whirlwind, introducing people, killing off wives, setting scenes, essentially crafting a small town in the middle of nowhere. After the first almost “introductory” 70 pages, the book lowers the pace a bit, and the plot starts to take its time to really allow the reader to savour what is happening, or going to happen, but never once are we not in the thick of something exciting.

There is no real major plot point, or goal of the story. Usually, you have a story and the major driving point is to defeat the villain, or to fall in love, or to Live Happily Ever After, but The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry doesn’t work like that. It’s like having the best of all these points, because basically all of this happens! Falling in love, raising children, recovering from business loss, getting back to the way he was before his wife was killed… all of this happens, and it’s almost like a memoir, as it very well could be real. Indeed, this is why the title is The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

In between the chapters, there are a collection of reviews of short stories that really add to the value of the story, because they follow along with the plot. You can see that they start off very analytical, cold and professional. Eventually, as more people enter his life, A.J. Fikry starts to become more sentimental with his reviews, including notes to the person. Indeed, they hint at a major plot twist that nears the ending of the book. Eventually, they become more like memories instead of reviews, and you begin to see that he recounts a memory and says that the story reminds him of that time.

It is written in the present tense, which is really interesting. Because it is more memoir style, it definitely works with the book and keeps you on your toes, because you suavely read past tense, therefore are expecting past tense.

The characters are extremely realistic. Zevin has created small details that make all the difference. Things like a stutter, or a nail-polish colour are included, and although they may seem unnecessary and a waste of time and space, they completely add to the realism of the character.

Overall, I found The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry to be a very interesting and enjoyable read. It read like a fairytale all the way through, partly because of the present tense, and partly because of Zevin’s fantastic writing style. The plot was thick, and changed very frequently, and the pace was very quick. The characters are very realistic.

Rating:  9/10

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is out now. Buy at your local bookstore.

The Info:

  • Title: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
  • Author: Gabrielle Zevin
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; 1st Edition edition (December 2, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616204516
  • URL: Author’s Website



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