Title: The Collected Works of A J Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Genre: YA Fiction
First Publication: 2013
Setting Place: Mostly at Island Books, an exclusive bookstore of Alice Island (Location not that clear)
Major Characters: A J Fikry (Protagonist and Owner of Island Books), Maya (Adopted Daughter), Chief Lambiase (Police Officer), Ismay (A.J.’s Sister in law), Daniel Parish (Ismay’s husband) and Amelia Loman (Sales Rep. / A.J. love interest)
Theme: nostalgia, second chance at love, books and more books
Narrator: Narrated in Third person by the Author
Book Summary: The Collected Works of A J Fikry
Set in a little, purple Victorian cottage is Island Books, the exclusive bookstore of Alice Island. And A J Fikry is the irksome, bookstore owner, who prefers to spend his life with no or bare minimum contact with other humans after his wife’s death. While life continues on a set template, certain instances break that mould to take him on a rollercoaster ride.
To cite a few: his most prized possession, a first edition gets stolen one night. This is followed by finding a toddler abandoned at his store. Now, how A J Fikry along with the people of Alice Island come together to raise this kid; Also, while at it, how he falls in love with a Sales Representative, whose first encounter with him was a complete disaster. The main themes are second chances, never giving up and finding love. Well, to be precise, it’s not about finding love in the most unexpected places; it is how love finds you when you’re seldom looking.
Book Review: The Collected Works of A J Fikry
Welcome to Island Books – the exclusive six-hundred square feet bookstore of Alice Island. Now meet its owner A J Fikry, who could make anyone feel unwelcome at any given time. This snobbish, snarky, middle aged, widower lives in a small apartment right on top of the store. The book titled The Collected Works of A J Fikry aka The Storied Life of A J Fikry could have even been named as The Epistles of A J Fikry. Reason: each Chapter opens with a crisp note. Each of this note is written to Maya, the adopted daughter. Tuck this thought at the back of your head, since we will return to this a bit later.
The story begins with Amelia, a Sales Representative, meeting A J Fikry to present her press’s catalog and making a pitch. Things don’t really go well as planned. A classic case of messed up first impressions that change eventually. Well, this may seem a clichéd scenario, however I admired the way it was handled. Mainly, how someone from a distant corner eventually turns into “The Significant Other”. But there’s a catch, as it always happens, Amelia Loman is engaged to a soldier. Now, you may want to read the book to know how this pans out, and how A.J. wins her over.
“Sometimes books don’t find us until the right time.”
Now let me introduce you to another significant lady in A J Fikry’s life. And before your mind slowly traces a love triangle, let me interrupt to reveal who Maya is. There’s an African proverb that reads “It takes a village to raise a child”, and in this case people of Alice Island or rather A J Fikry’s friends come together in raising Maya. Abandoned as a toddler by her biological mother at Island Books, hoping A J Fikry will take care of her, Maya turns out to be a smart girl. With a little help from his friends (Chief Lambiase & Sister in law Ismay) and of course Google, he figures out how to raise her. In this endeavor you slowly get to know who Maya’s parents are. Why Maya’s mother left her at Island Books? More importantly, Ismay’s husband – Daniel Parish who Maya adores.
While what you just read forms the first part of the story; the second part is about how Maya grows up. How this teenager turns into a storyteller? How A J Fikry infuses the love for books amongst other themes into her? Now if we may revisit that thought of why A J Fikry has been writing notes/letters to Maya, this is where it’s all revealed. In parallel, we see how A J Fikry’s love for Amelia blossoms. How Lambiase gradually moves up his role as a police officer, and his love for someone from his younger days is rekindled. What happens to Island Books? With a healthy dose of references to many bestsellers and authors, A J Fikry’s perception on his favorite books and writers is revealed from one chapter to another.
“You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question, What is your favorite book?”
That apart, I loved his (maybe, the Author’s) personal take on the never-ending argument of E-readers Vs. Books. From the first page to the last, the pace is well maintained by Gabrielle Zevin. It displays her knowledge about books. In fact, it proves the case that to be a good writer one needs to read a lot. So, if you’re a book lover, then this is a book for you. And if you’ve slowly started to like books, then this novel will turn that like into love. Now, while you figure out how to get a copy of this book. I’m going to conveniently reach for my old copy to give it another read. After all, who doesn’t love to amble through a little, cosy bookstore?
Review by Amit Charles