Faithful by Alice Hoffman
Simon & Schuster: 11/1/16
eBook review copy; 272 pages
Faithful by Alice Hoffman is a very highly recommended,
heartbreaking novel about a young woman guilty over living. Two
important facts right off: I sobbed like a baby for probably the last
third to a quarter of Faithful and this is one of the best books I have read this year.
Shelby Richmond physically survives the accident that left her best
friend, Helene, in a vegetative state on life support, but in reality
there were two victims that night. Emotionally Shelby is just as wounded
and absent as her friend. She was driving the car that night and
suffers from survivor's guilt and overwhelming grief. She's attempted
suicide and spent three months in a psychiatric
institution where she was repeatedly raped.
Now it's been two years since the accident. Strangers are visiting
Helene's bedside, saying that she has healing
power, but Shelby's life has stalled. She's living in her parent's
basement, smoking pot, and doing her penance for surviving. She's shaved
her head, secretly cuts, and stopped living life. Her mother, Sue
Richmond, has hope Shelby can recover. So does her angel, a man who
sends her hand drawn postcards giving her simple directives like "say
something" or "feel something" or "want something."
When her dealer and only friend, Ben Mink, wants her to move to NYC with
him as he attends grad school, she goes. This opens her up to a world
where no one knows her past. She's just a bald girl working at a pet
store now. She loves Chinese takeout and dogs. She makes a friend.
Slowly, we see hope for Shelby's recovery.
Admittedly, Faithful starts out dark and seems hopeless, but, if
you were ever a lost teen or had a child who struggled, you're going to
relate to this novel. If you have ever felt unworthy of love, of life,
of success, then you are going to relate to Shelby. Hoffman captures
Shelby's loneliness, flaws, heartbreak, missteps, and scars, but she
also, carefully, captures her maturation, the importance of emotional
connections, recovery, and, ultimately, hope.
Hoffman is an extraordinary, gifted writer. Faithful flows so
smoothly, so perfectly, that I scarcely knew time was passing. The
characters are all struggling in some way, but they are realistic.
Shelby is especially a well-developed character. Once I started it, I
was invested in the characters and cared deeply. My heart was breaking
for Shelby and I wanted her to find her way. I wanted her life to get
I loved Faithful. Hoffman created an unforgettable character in
Shelby and gave her life. When I finished the novel, after wiping away
yet another round of tears, I knew Faithful would be on the short list for my top ten novels of the year.
My advanced reading copy was courtesy
of Simon & Schuster.