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

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Discuss |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

A Novel

by Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin X
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Apr 2014, 272 pages
    Dec 2014, 288 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

Buy This Book



The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is a tale of transformation and second chances, and an affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

I feel like Gabrielle Zevin wrote this wonderful book, about a lonely New England bookstore owner who adopts a little girl and falls in love with life, just for me. And maybe just for you too. If one of the first things you do with a new book is pick it up and press its open pages to your face and inhale. Ahh. That smell - the heady (in a literal sense) aroma of a book, of a small neighborhood bookstore, the paper, the ink, the glue - is nearly as important to me as the story within those pages. There is nothing like it, an integral part of the whole reading enchilada. And so right from the get go I knew I was going to like The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. As much as anything it is a paean to the physical book.

Chapter one, page one begins with a brief note written by A.J.. It is his thoughts on a famous Roald Dahl short story about a woman who kills her husband with a frozen leg of lamb, then cooks it and serves the roasted murder weapon to the investigating police officers. This short story is one of my favorites. I am immediately baited. What does this have to do with this book? I have to read on.

A.J. is widowed but didn't kill his late wife. She died in a car accident. He's thirty-nine and lives in a tiny apartment over Island Books on a small island off Hyannis, Massachusetts. In his words, "I'm not what you'd call an alcoholic, but I do like to drink until I pass out at least once a week. I smoke occasionally and I subsist on a diet of frozen entrees. I rarely floss. I used to be a long-distance runner, but now I don't exercise at all. I live alone and lack meaningful personal relationships. Since my wife died, I hate my work, too."

Fikry prefers short stories to novels and dislikes children's and young adult books, thus they occupy the smallest section in the bookshop. A.J. is such a slave to the status quo that when Amelia Loman calls on him and explains that she is replacing the old (now deceased) publishing house sales representative, he is peeved - at her. And rude. And self-absorbed. Yet I like him, why? Because he is also smart and sensitive and self-aware, and he loves books. And when Maya, a two-year-old tot, is abandoned to him in his bookstore he is immediately smitten.

Maya quickly takes to him, calling him daddy within hours after they meet. The note attached to her is addressed to A.J. specifically, and so his sense of obligation is further heightened. Of course he compensates his toddler-care-and-feeding knowledge deficiency by consulting Internet search engines. How does a father go about [bathing] a two-year-old girl's private parts without being a pervert?; How high to fill the tub?; How to prevent a two-year-old from accidentally drowning in tub; General rules for bath safety, and so on. "Google" is one of Maya's first words.

Turns out that Maya's biological mother came to a tragic end. So A.J. – in whose trust she wisely gave the child - legally adopts her. And when little Maya Fikry is decked in a fine party dress for her "not-christening" party, A.J. "feels a vaguely familiar, slightly bubbling feeling inside of him. He wants to laugh out loud or punch a wall. He feels drunk or at least carbonated." But really, "The most annoying thing about [loving Maya] is that once a person gives a shit about one thing, he finds he has to start giving a shit about everything." And so Maya and Amelia (yes, there is a love story too) totally disrupt his "plan to drink himself to death."

Zevin has written a near-perfect novel. Punctuated by explicit references to classic short stories, implicit literary references, self-deprecating swipes at literary snobs (Is a twist less satisfying if you know it's coming? Is a twist that you can't predict symptomatic of bad construction?) and book club discussions, with humor and flawless characterization, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry fills all the bills in straightforward, no-frills prose.

Reviewed by Donna Chavez

This review was originally published in April 2014, and has been updated for the December 2014 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano
    Munich matron and self-described worldly sophisticate, Isolde Oberreiter, has decided to retire to a...
  • Book Jacket: Eat the Apple
    Eat the Apple
    by Matt Young
    Truth is stranger than fiction. Matt Young's memoir tackles the space in between truth and ...
  • Book Jacket: Educated
    by Tara Westover
    Tara Westover had the kind of upbringing most of us can only imagine. She was the youngest of seven ...
  • Book Jacket: The Girls in the Picture
    The Girls in the Picture
    by Melanie Benjamin
    Melanie Benjamin's fine historical novel about the relationship between two women in the early ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The House of Broken Angels
    by Luis Alberto Urrea

    The definitive Mexican-American immigrant story from an acclaimed storyteller.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Sometimes I Lie
    by Alice Feeney

    This brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something a lie if you believe it's the truth?
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Balcony

The Balcony
by Jane Delury

A century-spanning novel-in-stories of a French village brimming with compassion, natural beauty, and unmistakable humanity.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

I Y L D W D, Y'll G U W Fleas

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.