Book review: Faithful by Alice Hoffman

Wednesday, December 21, 2016 Permalink

I’ve got a stack of old Alice Hoffman novels sitting on my bookshelf, but don’t think I’ve read anything by the American author in a few years.

I’m relieved I didn’t miss this one however, as I loved it so much I read it in one sitting – delaying my dinner by an hour or two.

Book review: Faithful by Alice HoffmanFaithful
by Alice Hoffman
Published by Simon & Schuster
on November 1st 2016
Source: Simon & Schuster
Genres: General Fiction, Literary Fiction
ISBN: 1476799202, 9781471156458
Pages: 258

Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt.

What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky?

The book’s told from Shelby’s point of view (in third person), so we’re in Shelby’s head and it’s not always a pleasant place to be.

She knows what it’s like when someone is compelled to show her pain. p 110

Hoffman quickly fills we readers in on the events of two years prior to the book’s opening and when we meet Shelby she’s a shell of her former self. It’s hard for our hearts not to break as her story unfolds.

She was disappearing inch by inch, vanishing into thin air, and then one day a postcard arrived. p 5

Once destined for University, she’s now camped-out in her parents’ basement and spending her days in a stoned daze (!!!), only venturing out at night to roam the dark streets.

The doctors and her parents can call her condition whatever they wish; Shelby knows what’s wrong with her. She is paying her penance. She is stopping her life, matching her breathing so that is has become a counterpart of the slow intake of air of a girl in a coma. p 6

Slowly however, she starts clawing her way back. But rather than recover her old self, she overcomes that sense of worthlessness through new friends and a life she didn’t expect to live.

Hoffman surrounds Shelby with a great support cast: the challenging relationships and complex backstories of those around her add a lot of texture and realism to this novel. I particularly loved Shelby’s mother who – when we meet her has quit her job to care for her daughter – and initially. is the only one Shelby lets in. And only just.

“I’m nothing Mom! Don’t you understand that? You gave birth to a nothing!”

Sue moves toward her. At first Shelby thinks she’s going to slap her again, but instead Sue throws her arms around her. “Love of my life,” she says. p 168

It’s through these relationships that Shelby rediscovers life. And it’s interesting to consider what her life might have been like had she NOT been involved in the accident. Would her life have been better or worse?

My natural tendency is to despair when someone doesn’t appear to be fulfilling their destiny or potential; but I’m often reminded (as I am here) that there are many paths to happiness and some are quite unexpected.

I loved this book. I’m not sure – had I read it earlier – that it would have turned my ‘top seven books’ of 2016 into a ‘top eight’ list, but it came close. It’s a reminder of the fragility of life. It’s sadly poignant but surprisingly uplifting at the same time.

Faithful by Alice Hoffman was published in Australia by Simon & Schuster and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 



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