Faithful by Alice Hoffman


After a devastating accident leaves Shelby with an onerous survivor’s guilt, she wilts into a depression and essentially withdraws from her life.  People around her — particularly her mother — try very hard to pull her out, but it is only when she begins to discover her drive to save mistreated animals that she finds a purpose in her life and a reason for her to actually connect with other people as well.

This story actually starts off so simply and slowly that it seems almost too simplistic.  But it builds insidiously and the characters develop a charm and sweetness that work their way into your heart even before you know it.  Even while Shelby is being rude and harsh, you can only feel sadness for her because of her tragic brokenness.

The writing here is remarkable as well.  It is written in the present tense, which I usually find annoying.  (I can’t even say why that is so.)  However, in this case, I actually think it works.  But Shelby can only live in the moment, in the here and now and has trouble thinking about a future; therefore a present tense is a logical way to express her story.  There is also an intentional stiffness to the writing in general – to the description as well as the dialogue.  It is very effective in relaying how awkwardly Shelby relates to others.  There is only a comfort or warmth that shines through with very few people, and that becomes obvious as time goes on.

This is a heart-wrenching story but very moving and well-written.  Another winner by Alice Hoffman!


Seventh Heaven by Alice Hoffman


On Hemlock Street, in a small town on Long Island in the year 1959, all the houses looked the same.  In fact, even those that lived inside those identical model homes had difficulty finding their own because the streets all looked the same.  The mothers were all homemakers and shared recipes and gossip, the fathers all worked and bonded in the hardware store, and the children all fell asleep to the sounds of the Southern State Highway.  So when Nora Silk, divorced and juggling multiple jobs with the care of her 2 young sons, moved onto the street, she could not have appeared more different from the others.  It was only after time, acts of tragedy and kindness, and the communal realization that no one has a perfect family, that Nora was able to work her way into the hearts of the families on the street.

The first thing I loved about this book was the capturing of an iconic generation and its details.  The description of suburban life in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s is perfect – from the clothes to the foods to the very way of thinking at the time.  It was a simpler time but still fraught with normal human experience, both sweet and sad.  I am dating myself by saying that I could relate.

The story, as it very subtly unwinds, though, is really about bullying in its many forms.  Whether it is adults who are unfriendly to someone who they judge to be different, or kids who pick on the awkward new boy, or teenage boys who treat a “loose” girl like she doesn’t matter, the story revolves around the evil that comes from judging others and acting mean.  Some learn their lessons while others just run away.  But ultimately, kindness rules.

This is a beautiful, real-life story that will very gradually and quietly warm your heart.




The Dovekeepers

The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman

Wow, is all I can say about this book.  This is a must-read for anyone with any interest in the dramatic, heroic story of Masada.  By telling the story through the voices of 3 main fictional women who live on Masada before and during the siege of the Romans, the author takes the reader through the harshness of desert life and the barbarism and the humanity that coexisted there.  As you develop an empathy for each character and their personal plight, you then go through the actual siege with them and even though the outcome is known, the story is still gripping and suspenseful.  This is to the Masada story as Mila 18 was to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and the story is just as dramatic.

I learned so much from this story.  I learned about the Essenes, a sect of Judaism that existed at this time which dictated strict adherence to the Jewish laws and a strict avoidance of any violence whatsoever.  I also developed an appreciation for the mystical beliefs that still prevailed at that time.  Even though Judaism preached belief in one god, there was a lot of belief in sorcery and spirits and angels and demons as well.  Mostly, though, this story gave me, in vivid — really graphic —  detail, an idea of how harsh life in the desert is.  I felt as if I myself was tasting the sand in my food and feeling the pelting heat of the sun.  I felt a relief as they did when the rains came.

I loved this book.  I’d love to hear how you feel about it if you have the good fortune to read it!