Bestselling author Alice Hoffman has done it again with her new novel, Faithful. Hoffman is an amazing storyteller who weaves us into the life of Shelby Richmond, an ordinary girl who becomes a remarkable young woman.
It’s not all hearts and flowers. In fact, it’s pretty brutal at times, but so worth the ride.
We first meet Shelby at 18, living in her parents’ basement, smoking a lot of weed, sporting a shaved head and leave-me-alone attitude.
Two years earlier, Shelby’s life changed forever. No, not cancer, but she is a survivor. She survived a near-fatal car accident that left best friend and perfect girl Helene comatose. Shelby came out of the wreckage physically fine but emotionally broken in every way. Instead of returning to high school, Shelby tried to commit suicide and spent weeks in the psych ward.
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Unfortunately for Shelby, she realizes that life goes on and she has to find a way to exist, like it or not.
Alice Hoffman has published 26 novels, three books of short fiction and eight books for children and young adults.
What Shelby doesn’t understand is that the rest of the world wants her to be OK. She may want to give up, but no one wants to give up on her.
Her mother does anything and everything she can to save Shelby. Her drug dealer, Ben Mink, might actually be falling in love with her, and even Helene’s parents send her gifts on her birthday. Like the Bible says: faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.
Shelby feels none of these even when everyone in her life feels them for her.
Shelby just can’t understand why anyone would want good things for her. Despite her outwardly dead exterior, Shelby is very much alive inside. She’s guilt-ridden, and this is the only thing that drives her. Her emotions are just so out of whack.
She now only expects the worst. She takes every suffering in the world as her own. She believes in tragedy, not miracles.
What do you do when you can’t forgive yourself? What could Shelby possibly do to find her way out of her pain?
She has to grow up.
Hoffman takes Shelby to New York City. It’s in the Big Apple that Shelby finally starts to find her way, baby step by baby step. No, she still doesn’t grow out her hair or even try to make friends. But life has a way of finding you.
Shelby eventually discovers something like love — for dogs and Chinese food. She finds a job. She even finds her way into a couple of possibly ill-fated relationships.
It’s definitely not an easy path, but Hoffman tells Shelby’s story so perfectly. No cloudy silver linings, just real life ups and downs that keep us rooting for Shelby to make it.
Alice Hoffman’s novel ‘Practical Magic’ was made into a major film and starred Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock.
Other people enter Shelby’s life: co-workers, kids and men. Even better than that are the dogs. This is the perfect way for Shelby to shake her self-loathing and learn about unconditional love. Her dogs are a motley crew that eventually includes an English bulldog named General Tso, a one-eyed little hairball named Blinkie, a huge Great Pyrenees named Pablo and a poodle that looks like a cotton ball named Buddy.
Although all her pets enter her life in imaginative and surprising ways, the reality of being a pet parent changes Shelby significantly.
Finally, there is that unique magic that Hoffman casts in all of her novels.
In Faithful, it’s a nod to fate. The funny thing is, while Shelby refuses to open any of the hundreds of fortune cookies she gets with all that Chinese food she devours, her future is really just up to fate. So when chance brings her full circle with some of the most extraordinary people in her life on more than one occasion, you know Hoffman is at her best.
She makes us root for Shelby and have faith in her future. We want her to find the greatest love, especially for herself. Seriously, this is a novel for anyone who has faith.
☆☆☆☆☆ (out of five)
- By Alice Hoffman
- Simon & Schuster, $26
- Audio: Simon & Schuster Audio, $29.99; narrated by actress Amber Tamblyn.