Author Gabrielle Zevin has created her character, A.J. Fikry as an eccentric widower running a bookstore on the fictional Alice Island off the coast of Hyannis, Massachusetts. He is ornery and off-putting to anyone who ventures into Island Books, although somewhat rightfully so after the tragic death of his one true love, his wife Nic.
But then he happens upon a toddler left alone in his store with a note from her mother, which provides a questionable explanation for the abandonment. Her name is Maya, per the note, and shockingly, A.J. decides to take on the role of her caregiver. Once he does, his demeanor changes and his heart expands.
A.J. and Maya forge an immediate bond – she starts calling him Daddy right off though no one has told her to – and she is as precocious as he is odd. They are a perfect fit. Somehow his lack of knowledge about anything baby doesn’t hinder the reader’s belief that this relationship could actually work.
Other players in the book include A.J.’s good friend Daniel, a dallying professor, and his wife Ismay, A.J.’s sister-in-law. There is Chief Lambaise, who has been on the scene for all of the monumental events in A.J.’s life: the death of his wife, the theft of a treasured book, and the discovery of Maya in the store. Finally, there is Amelia, the book rep that we meet first in the story, who ultimately comes to play an important part in both A.J. and Maya’s lives.
The story is quirky and funny. At the same time it is touching and tender, just like the main character. A.J., for all of his bluster, is really just a softie at heart. The chapters each start with a book review by A.J. giving you a glimpse into his heart and soul. He is also a lover of books, as is this reader, and so many of his lines hit me in my reading heart.
We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone.
A relatively short book in length, it is easy to read in a couple of days. It skips forward years at a time and I found myself wishing Zevin had gone ahead and written about all of those sped through years so it would have lasted longer. But maybe her brevity and snap shot view into her characters’ lives is what gave the book its charm.
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Elizabeth's rating: 4 stars