Faithful by Alice Hoffman

img_5934
Faithful- the latest novel by Alice Hoffman

A few weeks ago my friend and I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by author Alice Hoffman.  (This is the same friend who recommended Girl Underwater this past spring).  Our local library regularly hosts authors for lectures, but I had never attended one before.  Though I hadn’t read any of Alice Hoffman’s books I thought it would be something different to do, and an interesting experience as well.  And it was- I took a lot away from the hour that I spent there.

She talked about how books have had an impact on her life, both as a reader and a writer.  She referenced books that were significant to her throughout her childhood and young adulthood.  One of the most memorable things that Ms. Hoffman said was that she feels that books you read in your middle school and early teenage years stay with you throughout your life, and become a part of who you are.  This is something that I completely agree with, though I’ve never thought about it before.  Looking forward, I think this is a topic that I’ll elaborate more on in a later blog post.

Much of the lecture was about Hoffman’s development as a writer, and how she came to be a successful author.  As someone who has wanted to be a writer since the time I could read and write, I enjoyed this part of the discussion.  It inspired me to focus more on my writing (which is partly why I’ve been slacking on my reading list and blog updates).

img_5935
My signed copy!

Before opening up the discussion for questions, Alice read aloud an excerpt from her latest book, Faithful.  From reading the book jacket of the signed copy I had purchased, I knew that the story was about a young woman who was struggling to move on with her life following an accident that involved her best friend.  The section that Alice read aloud from was a scene in which the main character’s mother visited her on her birthday.  It was also the first time she saw her daughter’s apartment in New York City.  The main character, Shelby, was worried about the state of her apartment and what her mom would think of her life in the city.  She had tried putting off the visit, but her mother insisted.  I almost laughed aloud; I’ve lived out this scene a number of times in my own life.  For that scene alone, I couldn’t wait to start reading the book.

The novel begins post-accident, at the height of Shelby’s depression.  It spans about ten years, mostly centering on Shelby’s personal development.  But it also examines her relationships with the important people in her life: her mother, her boyfriend, her friends.  As someone who has felt a little bit lost at different points in life, I appreciated the way that Faithful presented Shelby’s mental health.  She wasn’t perceived as whiney or ungrateful, which I’ve experienced in reading other books about young women going through a tough time.  The novel never shied away from the fact that she was in a dark place, and it provided a pretty accurate depiction of someone trying to put their life back together without having any real idea of how or what to do.  It was realistic in showing that not everything comes together all at once, and sometimes moving forward means you have to backtrack a little bit first.

I enjoyed reading about Shelby’s journey in Faithful.  It was a welcome surprise coming from a lecture that I originally signed up for just because I wanted something different to do.  And as an added bonus, it opened me up to another author whose books I plan on adding to my (ever-growing) reading list.  I’m looking forward to reading more from Alice Hoffman someday soon.

 

Girl Underwater by Claire Kells

FullSizeRender(1)

Girl Underwater was just what I needed this weekend. I’ve been in a funk recently; there’s a lot going on in my life and I haven’t been able to really get into what I’ve been reading. This book was the perfect cure- completely consumed within 24 hours!

Before this, I was trying to work my way through All About Love by bell hooks. It was the March book for Our Shared Shelf, Emma Watson’s feminist book club on Good Reads (of which I’m a member). But things were going slow… First it took me a while to get the book. Then, once I had it, I planned on reading it in the car on the way to my brother’s house, where my family was helping him move. That turned out to be a fail: we made the 5 hour drive after the sun went down, and I completely forgot that I would need sunlight in order to read in the car. Then my life got a little crazy: less than one week after I booked flights for an epic (but kind of expensive) adventure in London and Iceland this summer I found out my rent was going up by quite a lot. Then my car broke down on the turnpike on my way back from a work trip and I learned that I will need to buy a new one. Then I received news that there’s a chance my office could be closed or moved, but nothing is final or confirmed and no one really knows anything. Needles to say, I’ve been a little stressed out and spending a lot of my free time researching apartments, cars, and jobs. And even though I kept trying, I couldn’t get into All About Love (which actually made me stress out a little bit more because I don’t like to be behind on my reading list). I wanted to hear the message, I could tell it was meaningful, but the book is essentially an essay, and I couldn’t calm my brain down enough to focus and take it in. I needed something more engaging, and that’s where Girl Underwater came in.

Girl Underwater was recommended to me by my friend Sam around the time that I started this blog. When I bought it, I didn’t do much research other than skim the book jacket. Basically my mentality is that if a friend cares enough to recommend a book to me, then I should care enough to take the time and read it. So there was no doubt as to if I would read it, it was just a matter of when. And last week when the craziness began to feel like a little too much to handle, I set aside All About Love for another day, I threw a few clothes in a bag with Girl Underwater, and I drove out to my parents’ house to spend the night and read a book. Their house (my childhood home) is one of the coziest, most comfortable, and relaxing places I could think of, and it was the perfect setting for me to de-stress and unwind. Armed with Girl Underwater, I curled up on the couch and spent most of Friday night and Saturday afternoon reading the whole book. And it was awesome.

IMG_1273
My childhood home at Christmastime… so cozy

This is where I have to give Sam a lot of credit- this book wasn’t on my radar at all but it was exactly the kind of story I like to read. It’s a love story but not overwhelming in the romance department, definitely nothing like the Nicholas Sparks type fluff that seems to be popular. (Side note: my eleventh grade English teacher once spent half a class period talking about how Nicholas Sparks is a “fluff writer,” and I’ve referred to his books as fluff ever since). But Girl Underwater is more about the story leading up to the romance part, and it’s full of suspense and adventure. Add in an incredibly smart, strong, and brave female protagonist and I was hooked. So Sam- here’s a huge thank you for the recommendation!

Other than romance, I would categorize Girl Underwater as a coming-of-age story more than anything else. The main character, Avery, is a sophomore in college who is one of a few survivors of a plane crash in the Rocky Mountain wilderness. The novel alternates between her life post-crash and her struggle for survival in the wild with three young boys and her male teammate on her university’s swim team. I thought that the survival part of the story was pretty intense. As an avid hiker, it definitely made me more aware (or re-aware, if that’s a thing) of the dangers I put myself in every time I walk in the woods. Though I always carry a first aid kit and flashlight when I go hiking, this book served as a reminder to brush up on my survival and emergency skills, especially since hiking season is right around the corner where I live.

IMG_0369
Moraine Lake in Alberta, Canada- this is how I pictured the location where the plane crashed in Girl Underwater

Throughout the course of the novel, both in the present and in the flashbacks, you get the sense that Avery struggles with knowing and accepting herself for who she really is. Amidst all the trauma going on, much of the novel centers on Avery finding herself and becoming her own person. That’s something I found incredibly relatable, and my guess is that a lot of people would say the same thing. Looking back at my own life, I don’t think I was being my “true self” when I was 19, and it took me a few years to not only realize that, but also figure out who I am and where I want my life to go. Sometimes I think I still struggle with that, at least to some extent. It’s so easy to get caught up in everything that’s going on around you and forget to put yourself first. And it’s hard when someone you care about has different expectations for you than you do for yourself, because it can feel like you’re letting that person down by just doing what makes you happy. But Avery powered through it (as did I, and I hope millions of other young people all over the world). I think the author did a great job of weaving that coming-of-age aspect into the novel, it was heartening but not overwhelming.

All in all, Girl Underwater was a great book and I’m incredibly happy that I spent a significant portion of my weekend reading it. For someone who likes adventure and a little bit of romance in a book, this was just what I needed to get back into the regular swing of things!