Faithful by Alice Hoffman -Book Club Reading Guide


by Alice Hoffman

PBR Book Review:

(by- Andrea) We all know life can change in a split second and alter the trajectory of our lives. In the book Faithfull, Alice Hoffman tells the gut-wrenching story of Shelby Richmond. She is the driver of the car involved in a terrible accident. Her best friend is the passenger and is critically injured. Shelby is physically ok but emotionally broken. Guilt-ridden, she withdrawals, and the story unfolds. Alice Hoffman is such an excellent storyteller. I immediately became invested in Shelby's well-being and recovery. She reminded me of Lisbeth Salander from the book The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson. You can't help falling in love with this flawed character searching for redemption. It's a great story but does lag a bit in the middle. Stay with because it picks up again with a good ending. It would make a fantastic Book Club choice.

Book Club Talking Points:

This book is an emotional story and would spur a lively discussion with your book group. It shows the power of guilt and how that can lead to self punishment. The journey back is a very hard road and involves the love of many people.

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Discussion Questions

1. As a group, listen to Leonard Cohen's "Anthem." After you've completed the song, discuss why Alice Hoffman opened Faithful with the following lyrics: "Ring the bells that still can ring - Forget your perfect offering - There is a crack in everything - That's how the light gets in." How do you think this connects to the novel? To Shelby?

2. Love manifests in a few strong ways: the love between a mother and daughter (Shelby and Sue, Maravelle and Jasmine); the love between partners (Ben and Shelby; Sue and Dan); friendship (Shelby and Maravelle). Which love brings the characters the most faith or hope? Is there a sort of love in the novel that you find destructive to the characters?

3. Discuss the title, Faithful. In which ways do the characters show their faith? How does this faith differentiate from religious faith? At what point do you think Shelby finally begins to have faith and hope again? Is there another title you and your group members would have selected for the novel?

4. Over the course of the novel, Shelby rescues three dogs, a cat, and steals a poodle for her mother. Discuss the different caretakers that appear in the novel. What compels Shelby to save these animals? What compels Ben to care for Shelby? Shelby for Maravelle?

5. Discuss Shelby's relationship with Ben. In what ways is this relationship a healthy next step for Shelby? Do you think he has a positive or negative affect on her life? Why or why not?

6. While browsing books in the Strand Book Store, a young boy says to Shelby, "That's why the best heroes used to be villains and vice versa" (page 222). Consider this quote in relation to Shelby's survivor's guilt and redemption by the end of the novel. Does she forgive herself for Helene's death? Why or why not?

7. In the first chapter, Shelby says, "I believe in tragedy . . . not miracles" (page 11). Does her opinion change by the novel's end? What miracles does she experience?

8. The theme of trust is prevalent in Faithful. Discuss the characters who struggle most with trust. Consider the level of trust Maravelle puts in Shelby to watch her kids, Shelby's father's infidelity, Shelby's lack of self-trust, and others who appear in the novel. Where does the lack of trust or ability to trust stem from for the various characters in the novel?

9. On page 201, James says to Shelby, "What they say about saving a life is true . . . You're responsible for that person forever." Discuss what James means here and the different ways Shelby's, or another character's, life is saved in Faithful. Do you agree with James? Why or why not?

10. To further the question above, discuss Shelby's visit with Helene toward the novel's end. What "miracle" do you think she experiences during the visit? What kept her away for so long?

11. As a group, compare the various sayings on all the postcards James left for Shelby throughout the years, as well as when they appear in Shelby's life. What would your reaction be to these notes? Do you think James knew where Shelby was, both physically and mentally, at the time he was writing them?

Book Summary
Simon & Schuster - fiction - 272 pages - ISBN-10: 1476799202
Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend's future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt.

What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithful is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion-from dark suffering to true happiness-a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls-including an angel who's been watching over her since that fateful icy night.

Here is a character you will fall in love with, so believable and real and endearing that she captures both the ache of loneliness and the joy of finding yourself at last. For anyone who's ever been a hurt teenager, for every mother of a daughter who has lost her way, Faithful is a road map.

Alice Hoffman's "trademark alchemy" (USA Today) and her ability to write about the "delicate balance between the everyday world and the extraordinary" (WBUR) make this an unforgettable story. Alice Hoffman spins hope from heartbreak in this beautifully crafted, profoundly moving novel.

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