SECOND OPINION: The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Levin

A.J. Fikry loves books, but hates writers, and has only moderate tolerance of most people generally. His gentle wife Nic was the one person able to penetrate his gruff exterior, but like the plotline to a bad novel, she inconsiderately and melodramatically killed herself in a car accident, since when A.J. has been left to run their bookstore Island Books on Alice Island alone. His only solace is in drinking enough at night that he may dream about her, until one hungover morning he wakes to find his most precious book, worth a fortune, has been stolen. Without this he has lost the only means that would allow him to retire and leave a life littered with sad memories behind.

One night as he locks up, he finds to his astonishment a girl abandoned in the children’s section. She is called Maya, is two years old, and arrives in his life with an anonymous note declaring that the mother would like her to grow up surrounded by books. A.J. is woefully ill-prepared to look after a child, but gathers together a motley crew of ‘supporting characters’ in the form of his sister-in-law Ismay, police officer Lambaise, and Amelia, a kind-hearted book rep from the mainland. Together they manage to navigate the unexpected role of surrogate parents and carers to the sweet and intelligent Maya, who brings much-needed change to all their lives.

The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry is a heart-warming book for bookish people – readers who may find a book set in a book store about a man who loves books charming. What’s more A.J. thinks and talks in terms of books, over-arching plotlines, genres, and the book itself is punctuated by miniature personal reviews of books with A.J.’s own glib comment. Some might find this indulgent, but others will find these references delightful. While the Collected Works of A.J. Fikry can seem at first to be far-fetched, the modest telling of this tale makes it plausible, and each character reads true to life. Books can transform lives, and sudden unexpected circumstances can bring people together and lead our lives in new directions.

Gabrielle Levin lives in Los Angeles and has published six novels to date. She is well-known for being the author of two books for young adults, Elsewhere and Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, the former of which is considered an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book, and was nominated for a Quill Award and received the Borders Original Voices Award. The latter has been adapted into a Japanese film, Dareka ga Watashi ni Kiss wo Shita.

Other books for adults include Margarettown and The Hole We’re In. Originally published in the U.S. and Canada under the name The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry reached a wider U.K. audience when it was chosen by BBC Radio 4 as the Book for Bedtime in March 2014. Levin is also the author of the screenplay for the film Conversations with Other Women, starring Helena Bonham Carter, for which she received an Independent Spirit Award Nomination.

Tannith Cattermole
Personal 5
Group 4

The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Levin
9781408704615|Little, Brown|March 13th 2014

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