Alice Hoffman, 2016
Pros: Alice Hoffman crafts a beautiful story about love, redemption, forgiveness, and friendship in this novel following the life of protagonist Shelby Richmond after a tragic car accident–with Shelby behind the wheel–kills her teenage best friend. Moving seamlessly through time and space, with New York City providing background color and grit, the novel asks readers to explore forgiveness and growth as Shelby learns to not only survive but thrive in the face of guilt and loneliness. Clear, lyric prose, a great cast of supporting characters, and a deft hand toward tragedy make this a compelling read.
Cons: Though the crux of the story is the loss of Shelby’s friend and her subsequent, all-consuming guilt, the friendship between the two girls remained mysterious to me, and felt like a curious and clunky omission. A heavy reliance on emotional shorthand (loving animals as a sign of goodheartedness does not make a character complex, only cliché) stretches the reader’s patience and leads to flattened characters. And while much of the story explores serendipity–faith–there were many plot points that leaned (at best) toward sentimentality and (at worst) toward unbelievability. Deus ex machina, anyone?
The Verdict: Good for a lazy afternoon, but not much more. This one was a disappointment, though I certainly won’t discount Hoffman’s entire body of work based on this single title. Readers with a higher tolerance for bittersweetness and pit bulls may have a better experience than I did.