Title and Author: Faithful by Alice Hoffman
Publication Date: November 1st, 2016
Genre: Contemporary Fiction. New Adult?
How I got it: Thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Shelby Richmond lives a typical teenage life, until one night she and her best friend Helene get into a car wreck. Shelby, the driver, survives. Helene is comatose the rest of her life.
Shelby falls into a deep depression, especially after a counselor at a psychiatric hospital rapes her multiple times. (If you can’t stand to read about rape, you want to pass on this novel. While it’s only a small part, a page or two, it is a traumatic read.) Despite the support of her mother, Shelby can’t rise out of her depression. The person who finally gets Shelby to return to a semblance of living is Ben Mink, the local teen pot dealer. Eventually, Ben and Shelby move to New York City together, where Shelby starts rescuing dogs. She also starts working at a local pet store. More than anything, animals help her to begin finding a purpose to life once more, though she still doubts herself and struggles with depression.
Throughout it all, she receives mysterious, anonymous postcards that encourage her to keep living, to keep trying, to find a reason to be happy.
I recently read an article about bibliotherapy, a type of therapy where counselors give clients books to help them work through their own problems. Disappointingly, to me, the therapists assign self-help books to their clients, not fiction. If I was a bibliotherapist, I would give my clients fiction. (I’ve since found several articles about bibliotherapists that do prescribe fiction, such as this one from The New Yorker. This article from Book Riot is also interesting.) Faithful would be a great book to give people who suffer from depression, or to their families. Maybe especially to their families. It’s so hard to understand where someone who’s depressed is coming from. Shelby’s constant self doubt — “Why would anyone be nice to me? I don’t deserve it.” “I don’t deserve him.” “I’m worthless. Why would they promote me?” — can be hard to understand for anyone on the outside. As someone with close family members who are clinically depressed, reading Faithful helped me to better understand their point of view.
One of the main points I think this novel makes is that you don’t owe the people who help you out of depression — or, for family members, the person you help doesn’t owe you anything. Your goal as a loved one is to help them be productive and find self-worth, not to make them stay with you, or be kind to you, or to be the person you wish they would be. I think that’s a difficult reality to face for people helping a clinically depressed loved one who finally finds a way out of that depression. You feel like you’ve given up a part of yourself in helping that person, and when they move on from you, or become someone different than you imagined, that can be really tough. That’s one reason I love Shelby’s mom. She loves Shelby unconditionally. No judgement. No disappointment.
This isn’t the kind of book I typically read, and I admit, I thought about quitting at the beginning. I like books with speculative elements: science fiction, fantasy, magical realism. The only other Alice Hoffman novel I’ve read had some magical realism elements (The Museum of Extraordinary Things). Faithful verges on a romance (though thankfully steers clear of a Nicholas Spark ending — which I was worried about for a bit), not my typical read. But right when I thought I’d stop reading, she rescues two dogs. And then I was hooked. I fell in love with Shelby. I no longer cared that there was no magic. Apparently, a character that loves animals is enough for me. (Okay, minor nitpick here, but all the dogs she rescues off the street are purebred. Um, street dogs are almost always mutts. Falling into the Lady and the Tramp trap there.) Then she makes friends with a coworker and her kids, even though she claims to hate children, and I fell even more in love with her.
It’s weird; this novel has no discernible plot (unless you count discovering who is writing her those postcards, but Shelby doesn’t seem to really care to uncover that mystery until the end), yet once I got past the beginning, I didn’t want to stop reading. I also can’t tell if it’s adult or YA. New adult, maybe? The prose reads like YA, yet Shelby’s an adult for most of the novel. I just don’t know! Regardless, I enjoyed it, and I plan to buy it as a Christmas present for a fellow animal lover. Those who enjoy contemporary fiction and young adult will like Faithful, especially if they’re animal lovers!