This book came into the library, and one of my coworkers immediately said, “That has been all over the Internet. It’s supposed to be fabulous.” So, since I didn’t have anything to read (lies…I have all the things to read), I decided to take it home and see if it really was that good. I mean, I don’t read a lot of just straight out literary fiction, but when I do, I tend to love it. Maybe it’s because I’m lucky. Or maybe it’s because I only read things that other people have raved about (looking at you, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry). So I dove into this book.
A. J. Fikry is the town curmudgeon. He runs Island Books on Alice Island, but he is not your friendly neighborhood bookshop owner. Instead, he likes literary fiction, and he has no patience for bestsellers, chick lit, children’s book, or vampire fiction. His wife used to deal with the customers, but she died in a freak car accident after an author even two years ago. After his first edition copy of a rare Edgar Allen Poe work goes missing, he decides to take up running to help clear his mind and get himself off the booze. Well, he comes home to find that someone has left a baby girl named Maya in the bookshop in his absence. He offers to keep her while they attempt to locate her mother. Sadly, she turns up dead. Instead of giving the child up to the foster system, though, Fikry agrees to keep the child and raise her.
This bring a profound change on Fikry. Suddenly, he’s not the town crank anymore. He starts ordering books for children and some more popular materials. The community rallies around this man who has no business raising a child, stopping by to drop off supplies, advice, and to create that “community raising a child” vibe that small towns in literature seem to love. It even makes Fikry come out of his shell and make an advance on Amelia Loman, the pretty publisher representative that eventually sweeps him away.
There’s also a frame structure that I found quite nice. Each chapter is preceded by a short description of a short story that Fikry wants his daughter to read. It includes a brief synopsis and why he thinks she should read it or why he thinks she will enjoy it. So, on top of a book, you get a short reading list of short stories to get you jumpstarted in that genre.
This book can be boiled down to a very simple formula. Basically, an unexpected baby makes a single dad reevaluate his life and build a more positive world for himself. But that’s such an oversimplification of how charming this book. Imagine the town crank suddenly deciding to pander to children, host author events, and start a book club for mothers and another for police officers. It’s heartwarming if not always believable in the real world sense. And the end of the book. The end of this book. Guys, it is sad. And you realize that he’s been writing this book (or at least the introductions to the chapters) from the future, and it is just so cute and charming and really, if you’re going away to the beach or you’re looking for something nice and easy but so good to read, then this is it. This is like a less mystical Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookshop. Go. Read it. Thank me later.
JMF Rating: 9/10
‘Til next time,