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Posts Tagged ‘orphans’

Yes, bookconscious readers, I finished a book! For fun!

Ana of California, which is “inspired*” by Anne of Green Gables is both familiar and fresh. Ana Cortez is an orphan from Boyle Heights in East L.A. She’s almost 16, the age when she can “emancipate” out of the foster system. In the meantime, she’s in trouble for telling off her latest foster mother. Her social worker suggests Garber Farm in northern California, owned by brother and sister Emmett and Abbie. Ana knows nothing about plants, and has never been out of Los Angeles, but she’s willing to go to avoid a group home.

What Ana learns on the farm goes beyond how to tell parsley from weeds, make compost, and pick beans. In the small rural town of Hadley, she finds it hard to explain the violence that has defined her life. But she connects with new friends and coworkers, and with Emmett and Abbie, over music and books, food, and art, and humor. There are enough nods to Anne to please fans of L.M. Montgomery’s heroine, but Ana is her own unique character, feisty and strong, vulnerable and big-hearted. Teran renders her setting richly, making Hadley, with its funky shops, redwood forests, harvest festival, and quirky inhabitants, a character in its own right. Her writing is evocative: “They drove toward town, sunshine machine-gunning through the pines. Ana closed her eyes and let the light ricochet off her forehead. ‘Gorgeous day,’ Abbie said. ‘I’ve lived in perfect weather all my life-doesn’t fool me for a second,’ Ana replied.” Ana of California isn’t just about surviving a terrible childhood, it’s about the ways people misunderstand each other, and how little it takes to overcome those deficits. 

Much to think about and to enjoy, in a book that carries readers back to pre-texting adolescence.

*Note that doesn’t say it’s an adaptation — some reviews I read were critical of perceived inaccuracies in the novel, but it isn’t supposed to be a remake.

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Between getting organized for my now twice-monthly column (stay tuned for tomorrow’s edition) and taking a few days off to go to NYC with Teen the Younger, I haven’t had as much time to read for pleasure, unless you count restaurant reviews, which are pleasurable in their own way, and Playbills.

But this week I finished a book I’d started before our trip, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin.  There’s plenty to like right away in this book — it opens on a ferry, and I love ferries. It takes place on a small New England island with a bookstore and I love small New England islands and bookstores. And the story moves along quickly at first.

A.J. Fikry is the somewhat curmudgeonly owner, Amelia Loman is a publishing sales rep., en route to pitch the winter list. Amelia is a “bright-sider” by nature, but the meeting doesn’t go well. Readers quickly learn that Fikry’s wife died, and he’s drinking himself into oblivion. But one night Fikry’s copy of Edgar Allen Poe’s Tamerlane — a very rare book — is stolen while he’s in a stupor. A short time later, a two-year old, Maya, is left in the bookstore with a note saying “I want her to grow up in a place with books and among people who care about those kinds of things.” Fikry and his new friend, Chief Lambiase, try to figure out how a bachelor running a “persnickety bookstore” who knows nothing about children might take care of Maya.

As the book goes on readers find out what happens to Fikry, Maya, Amelia, and Lambiase, as well as Fikry’s former sister-in-law, Ismay. Each chapter opens with a note about a story Fikry wants Maya to know about, with references to some of the other characters’ reading taste, and these little introductions relate in some way to the plot. They are also excellent primers on some terrific short fiction, sure to lead to further reading.The whole thing taken together makes for a pleasant read about reading, about life, about the fictions we believe and those we tell. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is also about family, and the way “shared sensibility” can build bonds even stronger than blood ties. And of course it’s a story of love in its many forms.

If I sound a little less than enthusiastic it’s because I liked it but didn’t love it. Some of the twists were too obvious, some of the story was maudlin, some of the characters a little too much to type. When Zevin allows them to be a little more flawed, a little more human, they’re more interesting than when she paints them into the quirky sales rep., the gruff but kindhearted police chief, the cranky store owner, the precocious child loved by all, etc. But I’d still recommend this novel to readers willing to overlook some flaws. Lambiase in particular is a wonderful supporting character. And this book is ultimately both warm-blooded and True, which is what all fiction should be.

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