A.J. Fikry owns Island Books on Alice Island. He's a crusty and particular widower whose beloved, friendly wife took care of the community side of the bookstore before she was killed in a car accident. He only continues to live because he has no other choice but he keeps everyone at arms length, snapping at Amelia, the publisher's rep sent to work with him, and planning to sell his pristine copy of Poe's Tamerlane in order to close the store and retire into his much-deserved unhappiness. But after a drunken binge, Tamerlane disappears, scuttling those plans, and shortly thereafter everything in Fikry's life is upended.
This novel is very much a love letter to book lovers and to independent bookstore owners. It celebrates the power of story and the importance of books and bookstores. Zevin has sprinkled it with literary references and allusions, from the notes A.J. writes to Maya about his favorite short stories which preface each chapter to smaller, more hidden bits within the text itself. And for this gentle paean to books, the novel feels a bit like home. But it is also overly sentimental about love and loss, many of the characters are formulaic, there are big jumps in the timeline, and the ending is predictable. I so wanted to love this like everyone else has but while I found it sweet, I didn't love it. Yes, it is about hope and rebirth of sorts and the ways in which love for a person or people can change even the hardest heart but the Grinch did it better. If it wasn't for the setting of the book and the literary bent, I don't think it would have gotten all the accolades that it has gotten from the book community. It was a easy and charming powder puff of a read if you don't look too closely, floating happily along admiring the concept behind it rather than examining the actual content too deeply. It just could have been so much more.