Thursday 23 April 2015

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

Back in March 2014, I read and reviewed a book called The Collected Works of A J Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. I loved that book so much, it's wonderful.

The publishers also love the book, but it really didn't do as well as it deserves, so Abacus (LittleBrown) have changed the title and the cover and the paperback is published today (23 April 2015).

A.J. Fikry, the irascible owner of Island Books, is despondent after losing his beloved wife and witnessing the ever-declining number of sales at his small, quirky bookstore. His prized rare edition of Tamerlane is stolen, and just as he thinks things can’t get worse- someone leaves a baby at his store with a note attached to her asking him to look after her. 

"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 is a burden A.J. does not want but when the time comes, he finds it impossible to hand her over to child protection services, instead choosing to care for her, himself.   

Suddenly, the children’s section is overflowing with new titles, and the bookstore becomes home to a number of local book clubs. Business has never been so good and A. J. finds himself an essential new part of his long-time community.  

Gabrielle Zevin’s enchanting novel is a love letter to the world of books--an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love. 

The Storied Life of A J Fikry is published on 23 April 2015 by Abacus in paperback.

Gabrielle Zevin is the author of one of my favourite Young Adult novels; Elsewhere. It must be six years ago now that I read it, yet I remember it so well.  I have since read a few more of her novels and was really excited when I heard about A J Fikry.   Just look at that cover - what book lover could resist it?

By the end of the first chapter of this warm, witty and clever book I was totally and madly in love with A J Fikry. By the end of the novel, I was completely besotted by him, and by his book store, his family, his friends, his home town.  There is nothing, just nothing in this book to dislike. It is most definitely a 'tingler' - a book that makes you tingle all over as you read.  I was part of the world of A J Fikry and I didn't want to leave.

A J is a book seller.  His wife died recently, he lives alone with just his books for company. His sister-in-law stops by every now and again to clean up after him when he's hit the bottle. He's miserable, he's grumpy and he's quite rude.  A J loves books, but only certain books, he's very specific about what he doesn't like, and when Amelia, the sales rep from Knightley Publishers tries to sell him some titles from their latest catalogue he makes sure she knows just what suits him;
'How about I tell you what I don't like?
I do not like postmodernism, post-apocalyptic settings, post-mortem narrators or magic realism. I rarely respond to supposedly clever formal devices, multiple fonts, pictures where they shouldn't be - basically, gimmicks of any kind.  I find literary fiction about the Holocaust or any other major world tragedy to be distasteful   -   non-fiction only, please. I do not like genre mash-ups a la the literary detective novel or the literary fantasy. Literary should be literary, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything satisfying. I do not like children's books, especially ones with orphans, and I prefer not to clutter up my shelves with young adult. I do not like anything over four hundred pages or under one hundred fifty pages. I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items and - I imagine this goes without saying - vampires. I rarely stock debuts, chick lit, poetry or translations. I would prefer not to stock series, but the demands of my pocketbook require me to ............. "
Yes, he sounds like a complete arse doesn't he?  But no, he's not, he's lovable and he's honest. He's intelligent and he doesn't suffer fools. A J Fikry is my ideal man.  I'm not the only one who thinks so, despite his rudeness to her, Amelia finds herself attracted to him too.

AJ owns a very valuable edition of Poe's poetry, it is his pension pot and when it is stolen from his house after a particularly hard night of drinking A J is furious yet strangely resigned to his fate - he will remain on the island and continue to sell books. 

And then, a small child is abandoned in the book shop and A J sees a future. To everyone's surprise and dismay AJ decides that he will adopt this little girl and so Maya becomes his daughter, and his life changes.

I'm going to stop telling any more of the story now, you really do have to read it for yourself.  Its is wonderful.  The characters are vibrant and real, and created with such authenticity that it's hard to believe that this is fiction.

Book lovers, readers, bibliophiles - this is a book for you.  Written by a book lover for book lovers. AJ's favourite novels are a major part of his story - from his pithy reviews at the beginning of each chapter - that change in tone as AJ changes as a person, to the stories that he introduces to his daughter Maya and the novels that he recommends to the various book clubs that meet in his shop.

The Storied Life of A J Fikry is a tribute.  A tribute to book shops, to authors, to books.  A tribute to the grumpy man, and to how love and understanding really can mend a broken heart.

Read this novel and watch AJ change and grow, watch Maya develop into a strong and intelligent young woman. Watch the inhabitants of this small town rally around and discover that the happiness that they craved is under their noses. Watch how the power of literature can shape lives.

A story that will delight and thrill, and characters that will capture a part of you and won't let go.

Gabrielle Zevin was raised by parents who took her to the library like it was church. Her writing career began at age fourteen when an angry letter to her local newspaper about a Guns 'n' Roses concert resulted in a job as a music critic. Gabrielle is the author of eight novels, she is best known for her first novel, Elsewhere, which has been translated into 25 languages. She is also the screenwriter of the cult hit Conversations with Other Women.

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