You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao (293-pages) is a beautifully written and very emotional YA book about loss, grief and, eventually, healing.
This book is unlike anything I’ve read previously; it’s almost like a reverse romance. When we first meet our FMC Julie she is frantically deleting voicemails and text messages whilst filling an empty box with reminders of her boyfriend, Sam. Band t-shirts, photographs, CDs – she wants them all gone. They’re cruel reminders that Sam is dead.
“Seventeen-year-old Julie has her future all planned out: move out of her small town with her boyfriend Sam, attend college in the city, spend a summer in Japan. But then Sam dies. And everything changes. Desperate to hear his voice one more time, Julie calls Sam’s cellphone just to listen to his voicemail. And Sam picks up the phone.
What would you do if you had a second chance at goodbye?”
Throughout the story, Julia reminisces about all the heartbreakingly romantic moments between her and Sam, the tragic events leading up to his accident and the aftermath of his passing.
One night a distraught Julia phones Sam expecting the line to go to voicemail… and he answers. We don’t know a lot about where Sam is and why he is able to communicate. There are a lot of questions about the supernatural ‘connection’ between Julia and Sam that remain unanswered. Why can he only talk to Julie? How long do they have together? If you’re the type of reader that needs concrete answers and specifics then you might find this book frustrating. This is why I don’t really categorise this book as a fantasy. The phonecalls are almost like a metaphor for the nature of grief and Julie’s journey towards acceptance. Sam is her guide, although he is also dealing with the aftermath of his accident too.
You’ve Reached Sam depicts grief in a poignant and relatable way. It’s all-consuming and can not be easily defined or controlled. I’ve read a few reviews online critiquing the FMC. She’s either “insufferable”, “selfish” or “miserable”. I can’t help but wonder if these people have experienced the death of a loved one. These traits made Julia feel relatable. Grief is messy and doesn’t always bring out the best in people. You become so wrapped up in your own grief that you are oblivious to the grief of others and the consequences of your actions.
Julia’s memories and dreams blend beautifully together throughout the book to reinforce the sense of loss. Moments such as skinny-dipping, dancing in the rain at prom, writing music together and releasing paper lanterns into the sky could easily come across as forced and a touch cliché but they are written so beautifully that even the most cynical reader will shed a tear. They are also perfectly written to appeal to young adults.
I appreciate the diverse set of supporting characters as well as how grief is depicted in a number of different ways. There is also a lot of aesthetically pleasing imagery and thought-proking quotes about loss, acceptance, and, perhaps most importantly, empathy.
You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao is available HERE. (Affiliate Link)