In case you missed it, Monday night marked the exciting first Facebook Live meeting of Something to Read About: the Off the Shelf Book Club. Sipping rosé, we raved about Alice Hoffman’s novel FAITHFUL—a soul-searching story about a young woman named Shelby Richmond whose fate is changed after an extraordinary tragedy leaves her best friend in a coma. Actually, we’re still talking about how much we love this book. Here’s why.
1. The opening of the book. It’s so powerful and really sets the stage for how Shelby and Helene’s lives are truncated at singular moment. It’s also a quick start to the book that immediately throws you into the tragedy and the action.
2. A departure from Hoffman’s signature historical novels. This is her first modern-day story in a little while, and she has taken what appear to be observations about events going on in the world and wrapped them up in her own brand of enchantment. Unlike her previous novels, Hoffman starts in the dark place and goes to the light. For a while you aren’t sure where you are going to find the light, and it’s incredible to watch Shelby slowly become a newly realized person. Finding out who she really is, instead of who she thought she was supposed to be, is challenging, scary, nerve-racking—and one hell of a good story. Plus it’s incredibly relatable.
3. The magic. Every time we read an Alice Hoffman novel, we love to figure out where the magical element is. Sometimes you have to dig down deep to find it, but in FAITHFUL the magic is apparent right away. Shelby’s best friend, Helene, is thought to be a bestower of miracles. People begin to flock to the town to reap the benefits of her inexplicable healing powers.
4. The storytelling. We’re all obsessed with Alice Hoffman’s superior writing. If you could see our copies of her novels, you’d find sentences underlined and highlighted left and right. As Stu wrote in his review of FAITHFUL, the way in which Hoffman crafts character, her keen eye for detail, and her undeniable gift for modern-day fairy tales make her a surefire bet. You always know you will get a great story out of her.
5. The dogs. Shelby gets a dog at a pet store and rescues these dogs from a beggar in Union Square. Rescuing the dogs is the first step towards rescuing herself. She has felt so much remorse and these dogs allow her how to escape her survivor’s guilt, to feel good about herself again.
6. The takeaway. The bad things that happen to you don’t define you. Your actions define you. Your morals define you. And, of course, the books you read.
After a terrible accident leaves her best friend in a coma, Shelby drops out of her life in suburban Long Island and moves to New York City. What follows is a tale, sprinkled with Hoffman’s signature magical realism, of a girl struggling to find her way in the world. With the help of her new chosen family, a series of anonymous postcards, and a mysterious guardian angel, Shelby finds herself moving forward, toward love and joy in her life.