“Faithful” by Alice Hoffman is a novel about an extraordinary tragedy and devastating survivor’s guilt. Shelby Richmond is a high-achieving high school senior, growing up on Long Island, with plans to attend New York University in the fall.
That all changes when she and her best friend, Helene, are out one night when their car hits a patch of black ice and both girls are nearly killed. Her friend ends up in a coma and Shelby is overwhelmed with guilt, as she had been driving.
After a suicide attempt, then three months in a psychiatric hospital and two years living in her parents’ basement in a self-imposed exile, Shelby finds a guy, Ben Mink, from her hometown who sold her marijuana. Ben persuades her to move with him to New York City, as he has been accepted in Pharmacy School. Shelby finds work in Manhattan at a pet store and fills her apartment with rescued dogs. She befriends her co-worker, Maravelle, and Maravelle’s three defiant kids.
Alice Hoffman gives her readers a few of her trademark magic-realist touches, though they are much lighter than in her previous books. Helene, still comatose, is believed to have healing powers and residents see her as a source of healing.
An anonymous Samaritan sends her hand-drawn mystical post cards with messages in the form of verbal and visual clues. Shelby begins to heal and the messages are ones that ask her to take charge of her life once more.
Shelby’s story as she moves to New York City meeting an array of memorable characters is a compelling narrative as she slowly rebuilds her sense of self and the reader becomes part of her journey. The author is most successful in describing the everyday details and moments of Manhattan.