Reading Alice Hoffman often I feel like I’ve fallen into a dream.  Magical realism I think is a term most often used to describe her work.  Her characters have often a second sight or ability to sense things, or “other world” abilities.

This book focuses on a young girl named Shelby* — (spoilers somewhat follow).

As a young woman, just finishing high school, looking forward to college and everything the adult world has to promise — adventure good and bad — Shelby is slammed into a hard pause.  There is a bad car accident — Shelby survives but her best friend remains in coma/vegetative state.

Wracked with survivors guilt and PTSD — Shelby puts herself in an extreme mode of hiding.  She does not move on with her life — she ditches plans for college and barely can make it through each day.  She lubricates the pain with pot and whatever else she can scrape up, eventually takes up with her dealer, a guy she knows from high school and likes well enough but it’s more of a relationship of convenience if really a relationship.  It’s almost like Shelby wants to bob along in the ocean of aimless and it’s okay to bump into him since he isn’t demanding that she break out of this cocoon or dark stupor.

The small fish drug dealer/boyfriend also offers her the chance to move to the city.  Shelby decides she to wants to leave the suburbs and the fallout — not to move forward but to continue to decline in a location where her family won’t have to see or deal with her via cliche out of sight out of mind.  In the city, she finds herself in the whole mega scale of pain shared but to pay bills she takes a retail job in a pet shop.  It’s a necessity she doesn’t want roots or friends or really even the boyfriend/guy she is living with — she gives him only a certain part of herself although she knows/fears he wants more.

Shelby doesn’t want to commit and climb out of her funk yet and continues to struggle but starts literally rescuing stray and abused dogs from their crisis.  Filling up their very small apartment.  When the boyfriend straightens out and goes legit — Shelby panics, cheating on him and they break up and he leaves.  She ebbs along but her Mother still retains a relationship and she forms a friendship with one of the women at the pet shop.

The story weaves into the darkness of the city touching on money, homelessness/panhandling/scams, drug use, life on the street/getting by the city, and other ways of scrapping along.  Despite her best efforts to stay immobile — Shelby moves out of it with the support of a network of friends she has forged and family and also going to college part time.

Romance goes up and down as well then flips around again. I’ll skip the details but to note Shelby makes her own choices — that come back to her and sometimes the Fates intervene as well.  To note, post accident these mystery postcards arrive with supportive/yet cryptic messages.  Shelby eventually learns the identity of the postcards sender again by a wave of the Fates but has grown enough to commit to love and move forward in her life both personally and professionally and comes to terms dealing with the grief and loss of her friend’s life.

A dark and engaging read.

*About 20 years ago I mucked around with a few stories about a young girl named Shelby — mostly inspired by Salinger’s Zoey — she had issues with depression, love, and and real world reality.  None of my stories ever came together to the point of getting them published so I focused on some other characters — those short stories were published, etc.



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