What it’s about: A.J. Fikry owns a bookstore on an island off Massachusetts. He’s mourning his wife, who died in a car accident, and at only 39 he is determined to drink himself to death . But everything changes one night when he discovers that a two-year-old named Maya has been abandoned in his shop. Pinned to her doll is a note from her mother saying she wants Maya to be raised by people who care about reading. To the astonishment of everyone who knows him, A.J. decides to adopt the little girl and sets his life on a whole new trajectory.
Why we love it: This love letter to books is a warm, funny yet perceptive study of what can happen when you think all is lost in life. Seeing things through a child’s eyes makes A.J. aware of things he had forgotten about, like wonder and beauty. Watching him grow and change with Maya is captivating — she is his bridge back to happiness. The two are supported by an entertaining cast of characters, including a quirky travelling book-sales rep named Amelia, who eventually falls for the new A.J.
The backstory: “I knew A.J. was isolated geographically (he lives on an island), intellectually (he is a snob) and emotionally (his wife is dead),” says author Gabrielle Zevin. “The book was about A.J. moving outside of himself into the larger world, and showing that transformation was my goal.” Zevin says the bookstore setting was essential to the novel’s plot and character development. “People enter bookstores because they wish to somehow expand their intellectual and emotional life. It says some- thing positive about Maya’s mother that she chose to leave her daughter in a bookstore.”
Spark the discussion:
1. The power of a child to restore hope.
2. Rebounding from loss, accidental death, suicide and abandonment.
3. The idea that books are not just a means of escape, but often tools that can help you face some of life’s hardest truths.
About the author
Born: New York
Lives: Los Angeles
Her process: “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. This morning, I started around 5 a.m.!”
On her start in writing: “I once wrote an advice column, Dear Gabby, for my elementary school newspaper. I read through an old issue a few months ago and… well, I’m not certain fifth graders should be allowed to give advice.”
What’s next: “I’ve written eight novels in about 10 years. I feel like I want a little break. But there are a few ideas calling to me right now. I just haven’t decided which call I’m going to return.”