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FAITHFUL BY ALICE HOFFMAN

PUBLISHED BY SIMON & SCHUSTER
REVIEW BY EMILY MILLS

The exploration of trauma, sorrow and pain is a topic that fascinates many writers and readers. How we cope with death, disfigurement or disability can be what defines us as people. How we cope with the guilt of surviving a tumultuous event and being left physically unscathed is something that can destroy or create a person anew. It is the search for personal strength in the face of such guilt that raises Ms Hoffman’s Faithful above the usual tale of woe.

Ms Shelby Richmond is the survivor of a terrible car crash that left her best friend in a permanent coma. The best friend, Helene Boyd, was beautiful, well-loved and on track to attend the college of her choice. Helene is now visited by those who believe her touch can heal and at the site of the crash, candles burn longer than they ought. Shelby, on the other hand, is suffering from survivor’s guilt and is travelling on her own downward spiral.

Thanks to a series of postcards from a mysterious person and a rather slavishly adoring boy, Shelby is able to slowly become her new self – a self that is exceptionally compassionate and caring to animals and persons in need.  

The evolution of Shelby is reflected in Hoffman’s writing style. The writing begins almost like the online diary of a teenager, but changes with the character. The writing evolves from self-indulgent maudlin writing, “woe is me, I’m going to shave my head”, to a more adult and sophisticated style of prose, recognising the importance of getting through each day, making connections, thinking of others and slowly valuing relationships and, importantly for this character, self.  

Ms Hoffman uses supporting characters to demonstrate that it is the love of others that helps Shelby realise her own worth. In turn, that realisation of worth, gives Shelby the strength to be her own person and to value the people around her.

Ms Hoffman’s main message, as I understood it, is that when you have faith in yourself you can give that faith back to those who believe in you. Despite the impression given by the title of book, the description of miracles and possible angels, this is not a sanctimonious story. It is worth the read.  

Find this novel in store at Planet Books. Ask the friendly staff for guidance too, and they’ll be more than happy to order you in a copy if it’s already sold out.