Small talk is not A.J Fikry’s forte, as a self-isolated bookstore owner in The Storied Life of A.J Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, he believes that ‘getting to know’ someone gradually is pointless. He doesn’t get small talk, since in his opinion, “you know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question, What is your favorite book?”
If you love reading about heroes with hearts of gold and pure intentions that could do no wrong, A.J Fikry is not the main character for you. He’s rude, demeaning, and quite frankly a miserable shell of what he believes he should be at this point in his life. His wife has passed away, his bookstore is slowly failing, and he’s isolating himself from anyone and everyone who is in his life, from a friendly police officer to his nosey sister-in-law. He’s not interested in changing his world for the better- in fact, he’s quite content with wallowing in his misery, drinking himself to death, and driving his business into ruin.
If you are into thrilling quests and narrowly escaping the jaws of death at every new obstacle, A.J Fikry’s monotonous life will seem boring to you. There’s no love interest that throws herself at him in the final moments before his mighty quest ends, and there sure are none of those mushy cliches A.J despises so much. There is no final battle between good and evil, the villain doesn’t get justice and the hero doesn’t get his reward and the key to the city. It’s only A.J, his failing bookstore, his prized collection of Edgar Allen Poe poems, and his bitter feelings.
But then a package is left on A.J’s doorstep one day. It’s small, but it’s heavy, and it gives A.J a second chance at life and happiness.
Above all, A.J’s story is one about transformation with none of the pleasant storylines. It is a tale of second chances and learning to live with tragedy not only through the books we read, but also through the people we love. With accurate depictions of modern day issues, like grieving the loss of a family member, dealing with illness, and domestic abuse, this book will have your heart doing flips and leave your lungs out of breath as you refuse to put it down.
A.J himself as a character seems unreliable and unrelatable at first, but his experiences and the experiences of those around him could speak for everyone in the world. Those that isolate themselves in fantasy worlds to escape reality, such as I sometimes do, will relate to the parts of A.J’s personality that does the very same thing.
The characters in the book, especially A.J, are so complex that they seem to be real, living people. They aren’t simply characters any more, and you can picture them going about their day to day life just like you. You could just picture A.J holed up in the office of his store, sneering at the copies of Twilight someone sent him to sell because he feels like it’s a stupid book series. But then you begin to notice him in the eyes of people you know. You see him in the quiet determination of your mother, and in the joyful way your sibling laughs. You see him in the old man doing the crossword on the bus, but you also see him in the gummy smile of your little cousin. You see him in the students in your classes who maybe don’t talk that much and are simply content to observe. The most striking thing about his character is that after you finish reading, even if you hated him and thought he wasn’t relatable at all, even then, you look into the mirror and suddenly you see a tiny fraction of him in you.
Gabrielle Zevin has created a timeless character that has so many sides to his personality that it’s impossible to not relate to him in some way. He’s not simply a character any more; he’s a person, an everyman, and a part of him will always be in you long after you turn the last page.
A realistic love story with none of the happy cliches, The Storied Life of A.J Fikry depicts loss, grief, pain and happiness in a formula that moves you just as much as it surprises you.
The Storied Life of A.J Fikry is the best story I’ve ever experienced, and I am proud to tell people that, because like A.J, I believe that the fact that this is my favorite book says everything you need to know about me.