So, remember in my last review I said The Vacationers by Emma Straub was a good break from the heavy, emotional books I find myself consumed by? Yeah, well…this is one of those books I was referring to. Alice Hoffman has a slew of novels but oddly, Faithful is my first. A little more than halfway through, I thought I had this book figured out and it was sitting at an easy 4 stars. However, what happened next completely changed everything for me.
Shelby is a damaged, broken, disturbed and depressed teenager that is carrying the guilt of a car accident that left her best friend comatose and essentially a vegetable. From page one, it’s very evident that Shelby is a lost soul. She was so miserable and defeated that it actually disturbed me. [Don’t say I didn’t warn you that this is a ‘heavy on the heart’ type of book] She is struggling to understand who she is after the accident and the purpose she serves. Months in the psych ward, violently cutting her body, and excessive drug use couldn’t guide her to the answers. In fact, she doesn’t really care who she is, all she knows is she would rather be dead. She’s a ‘nobody’, as she described. The life she is living is not a life, at all.
Shelby really is a gentle and caring person; she was the All-American girl in high school and even after the accident and psych ward, the good is still in there. Yet, she pushes everyone away that shows even the smallest ounce of love and understanding towards her because she truly feels she is unworthy. She spends her days hidden in her parent’s gloomy basement speaking to nobody, just dozing in and out of consciousness as she stares blankly at the TV. The only joy she feels results from anonymous post cards sent from her “angel”; post cards with no return address, just sketches of her with tape over her mouth, eyes, or heart and words like “believe something”, “feel something”, “do something”, etc. This is the only person or thing that Shelby feels understand her pain.
Page by page, we start to see Shelby come out of her shell as she moves to Manhattan with her weed dealer turned boyfriend. She lands a job at a pet store eventually becoming the manager and the rest is history. She discovers a soft spot for wounded and needy animals; she’d stolen all 3 of her dogs from NYC street bums whom kept them in horrid living conditions. She grew out her hair after keeping her head shaved after the accident. She even applied to vet school after hours of volunteering at the humane society.
As Shelby’s life is finally on a steady and upward path, the bomb hits: her mom is dying of stage 4 lung cancer. Instantly, this book changed for me. It went from an intriguing and emotional story of a damaged girl to becoming utterly crushed, for both Shelby and myself all over again. Not only did the book change in my perspective, but the plot shifted. What started out as a ride through Shelby’s bumpy journey developed into the strength, love, and bond shared between a mom and daughter. “She’s probably never loved her mother more than she does at this moment. Maybe she didn’t even know what love was before this” -Alice Hoffman, Faithful. It was in this moment after this very quote that my heart shattered. I’ll spare the sappy details, but there were so many things that were a carbon copy of what I experienced and still struggle with after losing my mom to stage 4 cancer. From mentioning loved ones who have passed visiting in the form of cardinals and realizing that your rescued pets are actually the ones who rescued you to the complete and utter emptiness you feel after you’ve just left your mom’s funeral. I felt it all, and I felt it hard.
“She doesn’t have a mother anymore. There’s no one to whom she’s the most important person in the world” – Alice Hoffman, Faithful
Just as Shelby had an angel of her own that followed her journey sending anonymous post cards, it was as if this book was sent to me by an angel of my own – perhaps my mom was who led me to it. I had no idea this book would flow and evolve the way it did; I did not expect to relate so intimately to the story. Talk about great writing! To be able to tie together two extremely different stories and emotions into one singular and seamless journey that tugs at the reader’s heart with every turn of the page is so beautiful. Alice Hoffman’s writing is so raw and compelling; to provoke real emotions like this book did is such a rare thing.
Alice Hoffman created such a realistic and endearing character that everyone will fall in love with. Shelby is the ultimate underdog; she is incredible and a true inspiration to anyone. You will find yourself so invested in this girl; you will cheer her on as she slowly picks up the broken pieces of her life, your stomach will turn at what she went through in the days after the accident, your heart will burst when she finds love, you will be angry when she pushes the nice guy away, you will cry with her as she lays under the stars and grieves a lonely life without her mom. You will feel it all with this book, I gurantee it. Not often do you find a book that makes you want to feel these things over and over and over again because it’s just that good of writing.
Whether you’ve lost your mom to cancer like Shelby and I or you’ve been in a dark place that seemed impossible to crawl out of, you will probably relate to this book. The rawness, the realness and the strikingly emotional tone will grab you and shake you to your core. Kudos to Alice Hoffman for giving us this beautiful piece of art, she has gained a loyal fan in me.