I haven’t written much in the last two weeks because the books and movies I consumed were either sadly bland or outright annoying. The curse was broken when I read Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, a gem for those who believe “a town isn’t a town without a bookstore.”
A. J. Fikry is a curmudgeon who owns a bookstore in a fictional town called Alice, a small island off the New England coast. He lives alone above the store after his pregnant wife Nic died in a car accident.
One day, when he returns after a run, he finds a two-year-old girl abandoned in his store. The accompanying note identifies the child as Maya, and her mother, who’s unable to take care of the toddler, wishes for the little girl to be raised around books.
A. J. at first considers turning Maya over to children’s services, but he and the child quickly form a bond and he ends up adopting her. What follows is a story of a man teaching his daughter the value of words, how they can transform us, illuminate us, and help us communicate love.
Though the book contains only 258 pages, Zevin manages to pack in a lot of story and emotions. She does this by choosing just the right amount of words to incisively describe scenes and people. Here’s the description of the social worker who comes for Maya:
If Jenny were a book, she would be a paperback just out of the box—no dog ears, no waterlogging, no creases in her spine. A.J. would prefer a social worker with some obvious wear.
Here’s a portrait of A.J.’s sister-in-law:
In the fifteen or so years he has known her, A.J. thinks Ismay has aged like an actress should: from Juliet to Ophelia to Gertrude to Hecate.
And how can you not agree with a man who believes you can learn everything you need to know about a person based on his/her answer to the question What’s your favorite book?
Life is heartwarming without being saccharine, incredibly moving without trying too hard to jerk your tears. A. J. may soften up a bit after Maya enters his life, but he stays true to who he is; he doesn’t suddenly turn all mushy. And Maya is adorable but not cloyingly so.
My only quibble is that there are some issues with the tense. The narrative is written in present tense, so when a character refers to something in the past, simple past tense should be used, not past participle. For example,
She thinks back to a sophomore seminar she had taken in literary theory…
She thinks back to a sophomore seminar she took…
The inconsistent tense became a bit distracting at times, but the story is so lovely, the characters so memorable that this book will easily be a top-five (if not top-three) book for me this year.
Nerd verdict: Life is beautiful