If I Stay meets Your Name in Dustin Thao’s You’ve Reached Sam, a heartfelt novel about love and loss and what it means to say goodbye.
How do you move forward when everything you love in on the line?
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?
Filled with a diverse cast of characters, the heartache of first love and loss, and the kind of friends that can get you through anything, plus a touch of magic, You’ve Reached Sam will make an instant connection with anyone looking for a big emotional romance of a read.
You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao is a poignant look at a teenage death and the grief and loss experienced by everyone close to that teen, even to some extent, the teen himself. Unexpectedly, I found this to be a complex review to write and share. I finished the book days ago and have been pondering it ever since. Still, I’m struggling with a definitive list of what I enjoyed about this story.
Did the story move me?
It did. I found the tears welling up from time to time. However, I couldn’t determine if it was because of my remembrances of a friend lost in high school being interjected into the story or if it was because of the story itself. Whenever a teen dies, it is a tragedy. No matter the details, all that potential life lost will always sadden me. Julie’s grief in the story over Sam’s accident and subsequent death is very pervasive and heartbreaking. Her reactions did not strike me in a bad way, even though they were coming from a very self-absorbed place. Denial is a huge part of the grief process, and she is in denial for most of the story. If anything, the rest of the grief process, which was basically skipped over, should have come into account. For example, she should have been angry with Sam, and it should have mixed in with the denial. If I’m being candid, I was more irritated with Julie’s mother for not intervening when I could see she really needed to do so.
Did I connect with the characters?
Not really. Julie was deep inside her own feelings of denial, so I never got to see the real her. And I only experienced Sam through Julie and her remembrances of him. There seems to be an “only remembering the good things” process going on as the reader is given some huge and glaring clues that Sam was not all goodness and light. Though I would say that he did come off as generally a good person, he’s still a teenager and, let’s face it, no teen is perfect. That part left me with so many questions that I just wanted to ask the characters about. If I could have convinced Julie to hand me the phone to ask Sam directly, I would have. And I had a few questions for Julie too. There is so much more to the story that the reader will never get answers since it is told from Julie’s grief-stricken perspective. It makes for a lot of discussion potential, but not necessarily a singly satisfying read.
Did I enjoy anything about the story without a “but” following it?
I love the premise of the story in general and how it was used. I think the phone played a pivotal role in Sam and Julie’s relationship when he was alive, in even more ways than we are told. I also think the rules Sam lays out to Julie about their calls are not arbitrary or spiritually reasoned. The rules have a lot more to do with the phone’s role in their relationship when he was still alive. And I enjoyed that attention to detail as I perceived it.
I also think the story is very compelling and fast-paced. I read it in record time because I just couldn’t put it down. There is an urgency to the calls that pulled me through the story and made me unable to take my eyes off the page.
To Read or Not to Read
If you find the concept intriguing, then I would say definitely yes. You should read this story and enjoy how the idea plays out. But, if you are looking for relatable characters who will pull at your heartstrings just because you like them so much, this probably is not the book for you.