Monthly Archives: March 2014

Staff Review: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

Gabrielle Zevin

Algonquin Books

$24.95

Available now

What a gem of a book! And how could a bookseller not be drawn into the sphere of cantankerous bookstore owner A.J. Fikry, who measures his life against his favorite books and short stories? Grieving for his wife, who recently died in a car accident, A.J. retreats to his apartment above the bookstore and spends his evenings in an alcoholic haze–until the arrival of 2-year-old Maya who has been abandoned in his bookstore.

In a very uncharacteristic move, A.J. takes Maya into his home, first under foster care, eventually adopting her. The mothers in the tight-knit Alice Island community (where A.J. lives and sells books) take it upon themselves to look in on Maya to ensure she is being cared for properly. At the same time, A.J. has found himself attracted to Amelia Loman, a sales rep for Knightley Press. He has also reached out to Alice Island chief of police Lambiase not only in searching for Maya’s mother but in an investigation into the theft of A.J.’s valuable copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tamerlane.

A.J. slowly emerges from his misery, and thus draws the island community into his bookstore: the mothers begin discussing–and purchasing–books, the police chief starts his own crime book group, and Amelia makes more frequent sales calls to Island Books. Although this book goes to the heart of what we, as booksellers, do each day, it also deals with the universal themes of loss, redemption, love and the healing power of community. As the sign above A.J. Fikry’s Island Books proclaims: “No Man Is An Island, Every Book Is A World.”

~ Mary Fran

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Staff Review: The Witch’s Boy

The Witch’s Boy

Kelly Barnhill

Algonquin Young Readers

The Witch’s Boy, by Kelly Barnhill, is a unique fantasy story that is as much about family and friendship as it is about magic and heroism. Although the witch, or medicine woman figure is often represented as solitary, living on the outer edges of the community, in Barnhill’s story the witch has a husband, two sons, and lives in town. She is, as might be expected, both feared and revered by her neighbors, but The Witch’s Boy isn’t about her relationship with the town, it’s about the struggle between power and love. The witch must chose between the magic she has been entrusted to guard, and the motherly love she feels for her two sons Ned and Tam when an accident puts both of their lives at risk. Unable to loose them, she chooses love, saving the soul of one son, by sewing it the body of the other. Ned, the surviving son is left practically mute, leaving the townspeople to speculate that the wrong boy lived.

In the woods, Aine lives with her father, a different type of outcast. He is a bandit, made cruel by the small bit of magic that he possesses, and desperate to steal the jar of magic left to the witch’s care. With the magic comes power, but Aine knows that the magic is corrupting her father and, like the witch, she would do anything to protect her family.

When Aine and the witch’s boy find themselves thrown together on a dangerous journey, each is determined to save the thing they care about most, despite the cost to each other. In this story, however, the most fascinating character is the magic, which is almost anthropomorphic. It thinks, talks, and attempts to manipulate everyone around it. Does the magic tell the truth or does it lie? The magic itself doesn’t even seem to know as it fractures into multiple and conflicting voices. As the magic tries to pull their world apart, Aine and Ned slowly discover that friendship might be stronger than magic and family is more important than power.