A.J. Fikry is the owner of Island Books on Alice Island (off the coast of Massachusetts), and it’s not something he’s terribly fond of. In the 21 months since his wife’s accidental death after an author event, he’s become increasingly more reclusive and cranky. Then two things happen: someone steals his first edition copy of Tamerlane, by Edgar Allan Poe, and someone leaves a 2-year-old girl on the doorstep of the bookstore. The first is significant because Tamerlane was A.J.’s retirement fund. Without it, he’s stuck on the island, running this bookstore, for the unforeseeable future. The second is significant because it changes his life.
He is a reluctant father, mostly because his wife was pregnant when she died, and he hasn’t quite gotten over the loss. But his daughter, whom he names Maya Tamerand Fikry when he finally adopts her, gets under his skin and the skin of the community. It’s through people’s concern for her (and for A.J. as her father) that the bookstore finds a second life. As does A.J. Through taking care of Maya and getting involved in the community, he finds that running a bookstore isn’t half bad. Even if you sometimes have to sell pulp fiction in order to carry the literary fiction.
It’s really a love song to community and to bookselling, and the connection between the two. And even though I didn’t find it to be deep or meaningful, I did (as a bookseller) relate to it, finding it charming. It was one of those books where you like everything, wanting to live next door to these quirky characters because they’re so interesting. However, it lacked the emotional punch at the end that I think Zevin was going for; I wasn’t even the tiniest bit sad. (Maybe that’s more me than Zevin. Even though I liked the characters, I didn’t feel emotionally connected enough to be moved.)
In the end, though, it was simply delightful.
Rated: Moderate. There’s a lot of language, including a handful of f-bombs. I would give it to a bookish teenager, if they expressed interest.