Book review: You’ve Reached Sam

Brooke Jeffs

Dustin Thao’s emotional debut novel, You’ve Reached Sam, has warranted praise from both critics and readers alike. Released in 2021, this contemporary young adult fiction employs a hint of magic to answer the question, “what would you do if you had a second chance at goodbye?”.

Seventeen-year-olds Julie and Sam are primed to be the ultimate high school sweethearts. With big dreams to move away from their small-town following graduation and a vow of eternity, all they need are each other. However, a lifetime of promises goes unfulfilled when Sam dies in a tragic accident. Burdened with grief and guilt, Julie shuts out the rest of the world as she struggles to say goodbye. Desperate for comfort, Julie calls Sam one last time. When Sam responds, the couple is reunited. Although knowing this rare connection is temporary, how can Julie let go of Sam when she can still hear his voice on the line?

Thao deserves commendation for his exceptional execution of the novel’s central theme: grief. Each character displays a different reaction to Sam’s death with some responding by seeking support and others riddled with regret favouring isolation. These varying reactions are a catalyst for a lot of the conflict in the novel and result in some heart-wrenching moments that is certain to leave readers teary-eyed.

Pacing is expertly utilised by Thao to further emphasise the individuality of the grieving process. The novel begins at a slow pace but accelerates towards the conclusion. While this may leave some readers feeling disorientated, the pacing of the novel mirrors Julie’s sporadic movement towards acceptance.

Similarly, each of the side characters let go of Sam at varying stages. This aids in constructing their believability and relatability. Most of the side characters are well-written, however, some received little mention, generating confusion about their inclusion in the novel.

Regarding main characters, Julie appears self-centred and stubborn at moments rendering her intolerable to many readers. Sam, however, is certain to be a fan favourite as he radiates charm. His gentle and empathetic guidance of Julie throughout the grieving process, combined with consistent flashbacks to their time as a couple, helps to establish their relationship regardless of Sam’s passing. This will guarantee readers are emotionally invested in Sam and Julie’s connection despite recognising that they ultimately cannot be together.

Finally, Thao’s writing could evidently benefit from remembering the principle of showing instead of telling. There were many insistences where the feelings and thoughts of characters were explicitly stated in favour of encouraging the audience to read between the lines and seek a deeper meaning.

You’ve Reached Sam is a must-read for young adults pursuing an emotional story depicting first love and the difficulty of moving on. First-time author Dustin Thao has certainly accumulated an intrigued audience who will be eagerly awaiting his next release.

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