On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto “No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World.” A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means. A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly. And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming.
On the surface this is a story we’ve read many times. Solitary possibly grumpy man gets left with a child. To surprise of everyone he keeps child. Child changes him. He stops being solitary and grumpy and begins interacting with world as result of child. He turns out to be an excellent father. Perhaps he meets someone and gets married as result of child. They all live happily ever after. In some respects it reminded me of Silas Marner, complete with loss of valuable item and child left on door stop. I’m also pretty sure I’ve seen at least a dozen films with a similar plot, sometimes switching in an irresponsible party girl for the solitary grumpy man but the outcome tends to be the same. When I picked this up therefore I had my reservations. I was pleasantly surprised.
For all I knew the general plot (to the point I’m actually surprised this book isn’t yet a film) I found it interesting and engaging. The characters are likable and though a bit stereotypical (quirky girl and awkward nerdy guy) they were never boring. There is of course a strong emphasis on books which as a booklover is hard to resist (a book about books is like bookworm catnip). The plot moves along at a reasonable pace and the characters are believable, even the child Maya. The voice of a child is something authors often seem to struggle with. I found Maya’s believable if a little precocious.
All in all an enjoyable read and a good one for the summer or holidays, as it’s well written but not taxing .