Thursday, November 10, 2016


Title:  Faithful
Author:  Alice Hoffman
Publication Information:  Simon & Schuster. 2016. 272 pages.
ISBN:  1476799202 / 978-1476799209

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "In February, when the snow comes down hard, little globes of light are left along Route 110, on the side of the road that slopes off when a driver least expects it."

Favorite Quote:  "'I think of life as a book of stories ... You move through the stories and the characters change ...' ... But she disagrees with him and isn't afraid to say so. 'Well, I think of life as a novel. You can't just hope out of the mess you're in and into another story. You carry it all with you.'"

Faithful is a coming of age story, but one with a dramatic and sad trajectory. It is the tale of a young woman coping with grief as are many other books (The Thing About JellyfishUntwineWe Were Liars, and Black Eyed Susans); the book successfully sets up a sympathetic main character and leads through a story waiting to find out how it turns out for her.

Shelby Richmond and Helene Boyd are high school senior headed off to New York University in the fall. They are best friends. Supposedly, Helene is the beautiful one, and Shelby is the smart one. One winter night, a terrible car accident happens. Helene is left in a coma. Shelby escapes with physical injuries that heal. However, the psychological ones do not, for Shelby was the one driving.

Life stops for both girls. Helene is literally in a coma. However, she becomes something of a celebrity with claims of miracles - healing, candles burning all night, redemption, and other such claims. Shelby ends up in the hospital and then in psychiatric care. Home again, she retreats into a world of drugs and depression. Nothing her mother does seems to help. In Shelby's mind, "she is paying her penance."

At the beginning of this book, I am not so sure this is the book for me. Faith healing, miracles, a young woman whose new best friend is her drug dealer. Next comes Shelby's decision to run off with her drug dealer boyfriend. I don't know where the book is going, and I don't know if I want to follow along. However, I do, and I am glad.

The book touches on some issues and then leaves them unexplored. Helene is depicted in a coma, cared for in her parents home for year, but end of life issues are not discussed in the book. Towards the beginning of the book, Shelby attempts suicide and other self-destructive choices; yet, addressing her mental health concerns after the accident are addressed in a summary manner. A character is raped, but that incident is never explored. A key facet of the book is postcards Shelby gets from an unnamed someone. "Say something ... Do something ... Be something ... Feel something ... See something ... Save something ... Believe something ... Love something ... Remember someone ... Trust someone ... Be happy." These are the messages on the postcards and the lesson of the book. Yet, that entire storyline has a young adult feel.

Slowly, this story turns in the direction of a young woman learning to live again. She makes mistakes and some unfortunate decisions, but that is life. She also discovers friendship and acceptance. Most importantly, she discovers herself and discovers the possibility of forgiveness. The ending brings the book back in direction I think is unneeded, but by then, Shelby is a character I am engaged with. The friends and family surrounding her are real and are characters I care about. In short, even though the plot explores directions I don't care for, the writing develops character I do care about. That keeps me reading.

Ultimately, though, the characters keep me turning the pages of this book to the end to see what becomes of Shelby Richmond.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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