I’d give this one a 4.5 if Goodreads allowed half stars. I’m very tempted to give it a five. Normally, any book that is able to evoke so much emotion would be a sure five, but there were a few nit-picky little things about this one that held it back just a bit.
If you love books, you’ll love this book. If you love curmudgeonly characters who undergo a deep and believable transformation, you’ll love this book. If the thought of seeing a jerk get crushed to death appeals to you, well … this could be the book for you. If you want to cry at the end, yeah, you’ll love this book.
But, like I said, there were a few downers. The first I can say without being a spoiler. Typically I like to have things wrapped up nice and neat at the end. But in this case I think the whole denouement takes away from the emotional impact of the climax. Okay, maybe a spoiler is in order … I think the book should have ended after Maya understands A.J. to have said “Gloves” and warms his hands.
On top of that, there’s the issue of one of the author’s themes. On the one hand, it’s kind of cool how Ms. Zevin plays the theme of Expectations vs. Reality. On the other hand, I think she was terribly unfair because she held all the cards. For instance, she tells us baby Maya has blue eyes, and this is a New England community, so the reader would naturally imagine Maya to be white. However, we later learn that not only is Maya not white, but neither is A.J. Does it matter to the story? No, not really, but it makes the reader wonder what else the author is hiding. I would say it was sloppy writing if not for the whole scene with the author signing. I believe that scene tells us that Ms. Zevin knows what she was doing with us, and it’s just about clever enough to make me want to forgive her.
My final negative was the quick movement through narrative time. I just felt like there were some major life events that we, the readers, missed out on. I suppose they weren’t important in achieving the overall goal, and it’s likely just a sign that I really, really liked the characters and wanted to know more. But it annoyed me a little that we didn’t get to see Maya discover that she needed glasses at such a young age. We didn’t see A.J.’s reaction when he … Well, when he opened the envelope his cop friend brought him toward the end of the story. Was he mad? Thrilled? Relieved? Did he know who made the crayon marks?
The flaws are minor and they didn’t keep me from loving the story. The story itself makes me think again about what it would be like to own a book store. I’m already a teacher. Could I actually make less money owning a book store?