Books

Book Club: How High Five Books is building a community for all families

Florence bookseller Lexi Walters Wright talks about starting her own business, finding a book for every family, and the transcending power of YA literature.

Join the Boston.com Book Club author discussion "Fat Chance, Charlie Vega" with Lexi Walters Wright of High Five Books on March 23. Ruby Washington/The New York Times

After 20 years in the fast-paced publishing industry, Lexi Walters Wright was looking for a change of pace and a job that connected her more with her community. She left her editor position in the spring of 2019 and took 30 days to figure out her path forward. But one thing she knew for certain was that she wanted to connect children and families with books they can see their own story in.

“I’ve always been in parenting or children’s publishing, so this was a natural extension of the stuff that I loved,” said Walters Wright. “There is an energy to kid’s lit that is really unflappable. More books are being written by authors who historically wouldn’t have gotten the limelight that they so deserve, and they are creating these works of art that are helping kids see their own selves.”

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Walters Wright also holds a master’s degree in library and information science. Her education and career combined with the years of experience she had scouting out the right books for her young son made the perfect platform to launch High Five Books.

“I just started talking to people,” she said. “I talked to other small business owners and I talked to authors and illustrators and everybody was enthusiastic. It was enough for me to say, ‘Okay, let’s do this.’” She especially connected with Lindsay Fogg-Willits, who she knew as her son’s art teacher, over the creative experience they both sought to provide to local families. The women soon became business partners—with Fogg-Willits operating Art Always studio in the same space as the bookstore.

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After opening in October 2019, the store had a “sweet and unexpectedly smooth” first six months—with toddlers dawdling around and children exploring the shelves before and after art classes—and then the pandemic hit. In one caffeine-fueled weekend, the duo put together an e-commerce platform and has since expanded their offerings to curbside pickup, delivery, and virtual author events. They even moved to a new space this past summer.

“We’ve kept each other going during this wild moment,” said Walters Wright of her partner. “We’re both parents, so the demands of our own families were really good mirrors to the demands of other families in the area. We both just continued to pivot and hustle, and somehow we’re making it through.”

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Connecting kids with books that resonate with them, and showcasing diverse voices is a big part of what keeps Walters Wright going during these unprecedented times—including fellow Pioneer Valley resident Crystal Maldonado’s coming-of-age debut novel “Fat Chance, Charlie Vega,” the Boston.com Book Club’s current read.

Join the Boston.com Book Club discussion “Fat Chance, Charlie Vega” with author Crystal Maldonado on March 23.

“Fat Chance Charlie Vega is a book about finding yourself,” said the bookseller. “It’s this gorgeous exploration of one girl who feels like the world wanted her to be just slightly different in so many ways.”

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Contending with themes such as body acceptance, complicated relationships, and heartbreak, there’s so much in the novel that women of all ages can connect to. Along with the expertly penned prose that captures the voice and energy of young adulthood, what Walters Wright loves most about Maldonado’s book is the way the writer crafted a multi-layered character—one who acknowledges her flaws and one we can’t help but root for.

“We knew we were going to have kids in our community who we could hand this book to and have it resonate, but we didn’t have any idea how much it would resonate,” says Walters Wright. “You’re cheering for Charlie throughout this book and you also want sometimes to shake her. Her struggle is really beautiful to watch because it makes us realize we have to really dig deep to appreciate who we are.”

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On a broader scale, “Fat Chance, Charlie Vega” perfectly captures the true magic of young adult fiction, which, according to the bookseller, is how the genre gives readers of all ages a chance to reassess moments—like unrequited young love in the case of Charlie Vega—from a different vantage point.

“I don’t think middle-aged women read YA because they want to be 16 again,” said Walters Wright. “But there are so many feelings that, when they’re brought up, make for a welcome revisit to that experience.”

And on how she’s liking the bookseller life so far, Walters Wright loves how dynamic each day on the job is—from meeting with a graphic novelist in the morning, to orchestrating the store’s transgender book club in the afternoon, to connecting with staff members about new and exciting titles in the evening. Most of all, she loves to make the perfect match between books and families—families of all sizes, races, and orientations.

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As a bookseller, parent, and a reader, Walters Wright is excited by the diversity of stories just beginning to take shape in the publishing industry. “I just love that we are going to continue to see non-binary experiences being told, biracial experiences being shared,” she said. “But I’m excited for when diverse books don’t need to be called ‘diverse’ books.”


Join the next Book Club discussion

Join the Boston.com Book Club on March 23 at 6 p.m. for a discussion with High Five Books owner Lexi Walters Wright and featured guest author Crystal Maldonado on her debut novel, “Fat Chance, Charlie Vega.” Published in February, this coming-of-age story was named a best new book of winter 2020 by Cosmopolitan, and earned a starred review from Kirkus Reviews. Publishers Weekly called it a “warm and insightful coming-of-age tale,” and BookPage called it “an accomplished debut.”

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Buy the book: High Five Books | Bookshop.org

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