ARC Review: You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao

Hello everyone! I’m so excited to review one of the most hyped YA releases this year! One of the biggest news that rocked my world as a baby blogger is that advanced review copies (ARCs) were available to “Read Now” on Netgalley for 48 hours, and after all the crying my bookish friends did on Discord, I wanted to know if it would tug at my heartstrings the same way.

About the Book

If I Stay meets Your Name in this heartfelt novel about love, loss, and what it means to say goodbye.

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.

Heartbroken, Julie skips his funeral, throws out his things, and tries everything to forget him and the tragic way he died. But a message Sam left behind in her yearbook forces back memories. 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.

In a miraculous turn of events, Julie’s been given a second chance at goodbye. The connection is temporary. But hearing Sam’s voice makes her fall for him all over again, and with each call it becomes harder to let him go. However, keeping her otherworldly calls with Sam a secret isn’t easy, especially when Julie witnesses the suffering Sam’s family is going through. Unable to stand by the sidelines and watch their shared loved ones in pain, Julie is torn between spilling the truth about her calls with Sam and risking their connection and losing him forever.

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Publication Information:

  • Publication date: 2 November 2021
  • Publisher: Wednesday Books
  • Age: Young Adult
  • Genre: Contemporary, Fabulism (extraordinary in the ordinary)
  • Cover art: Yang Se Eun (@zipcy88)
  • Cover design: Kerri Resnick

On-page representation: Japanese-American love interest and family, Asian-American characters, M/M side pairing

Trigger/content warnings: death of a loved one, grief, car accident

Review

Disclaimer: I have received an uncorrected digital galley from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

These days, Facebook feels like an obituary. It is so normal to be surrounded by death during this pandemic, especially since many of them die without proper ways of saying goodbye. I’ve never really appreciated wakes and funerals until they have been restricted for public safety. How then do we deal with grief? You’ve Reached Sam offers a way to explore how our world changes after someone dies and how to live on when life does not follow our plans.

Though the main characters have been in a romantic relationship, this is not a love story. Julie and Sam could have been just friends and the story would not have changed much. With Sam’s death, Julie’s idea of the world–graduation, college plans, and life in Ellensburg–has changed drastically, and this time, she does not have the support of probably her greatest cheerleader.

I love how this book takes us through the very messy reality of loss: a rollercoaster ride that keeps changing its tracks after each loop every time you feel that you’ve reach the end. Unlike in other books, here there is no linear growth through the usual five stages of grief. In fact, none of these terms are mentioned at all. There are no neat labels, no checklist of behaviors boxing Julie’s experience. There are no expectations of what Julie should have accomplished X months after Sam’s death, but neither does the book ignore the very real consequences of neglecting some responsibilities.

Instead of achieving arbitrary milestones set by psychology textbooks, the book conceptualizes mourning as a collective activity. Everyone is learning how to navigate around the Sam-shaped hole in their lives–first by trying to fill it with vigils and other rituals of honoring, and later by self-appointed missions to carry out his legacy. I love that it does not attempt to erase Sam’s life, personality, and legacy, nor does it minimize him to the point of being a ghost or fever dream. It’s also interesting to note how these “Sam gaps” vary from one person to another and one circle to another, and how the characters try to resolve these differences by redefining their relationships with each other. This approach takes away the usual solo-flight/individual inner peace only; rather, this little community reshapes its network in a way that allows each member to recover from isolation and shock.

As much as I love slow-paced books and usually gel with them right away, it took me a while to get into this. It requires living in Julie’s head as she processes the world around her, and though the memories that she dredges up are thematically appropriate, these specific moments sometimes don’t add much to push the narrative forward. The book then feels too bagged down by unnecessary emotional baggage, and the “Before” chapters can be quite dragging. I hate being duped into manufacturing sadness just for the sake of crying and I can’t help but think that the book is banking on a flood of tears to blur my eyes from the lack of depth in the narrative. I love it when flashbacks serve as foreshadowing for any kind of emotional struggle in the next chapters, yet it doesn’t seem the case for this book. The readers are treated to an extended tour around the Julie-and-Sam show, and although it’s fascinating to read about their cute adventures, it can be a bit tedious to read nothing new.

Since it’s very much a character-led story, I know how important it is to put myself in Julie’s shoes but honestly… I don’t like being in her head. She is a very flawed but realistic character, and her voice is quite distinct, but for some reason, I feel uncomfortable because I don’t personally agree with a lot of her life decisions 😅 [Note: I strongly advise against choosing a college based on your significant other’s decisions] It took Chapter 5 for me to be familiar enough with Julie’s mindset, and to be softer and more forgiving towards her.

At first, it’s tempting to reduce Julie’s identity to her relationship with Sam, but that isn’t the case here. In her memories, one can see that she has always been grounded with other interests: her relationship with her monm, her writing, her work in the book store, and so much more. She and Sam are a team, yes, but it doesn’t seem that she has lost herself entirely. She may have lost some connections to her hobbies that Sam brings to the table, but once she is able to get back on her feet, she is pretty much okay. She isn’t as isolated socially or wholly dependent on Sam as I first assumed, which is both a breath of fresh air and also a sad realization about many of the other contemporary books I’ve read–YA or otherwise.

Overall, I actually like this book. Though it has not reduced me to a puddle of tears from the prologue alone like with some other friends, I still appreciate its presentation of grief and loss. I think that if I were to read this in 2016 or 2017 when I was around Julie’s age and in a similar life situation, I would have loved it more and sobbed my heart out so that Julie wouldn’t have to.

If you are struggling to mourn, then this might help you gain words to describe and validate what you feel. If you are at the cusp of a huge life transition that has suddenly been taken away from you by factors beyond your control, then you might find Julie’s actions understandable–not really acceptable, but very very relatable.

Whether or not our specific grief is represented well here, I hope that reading You’ve Reached Sam will be able to help you heal.

***

Let’s chat:

  1. Have you also been able to request the ARC during the same 48-hour window?
  2. For those who have a copy: have you finished the book or has it finished you?
  3. Are you excited for its release?

14 thoughts on “ARC Review: You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao”

  1. Everything was very well-said Nae! I agree with all of it haha. For a debut I think it was good and I’m looking forward to see how Dustin Thao grows as a writer.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is one of the best reviews I’ve read of the book. I read and reviewed it on NetGalley but haven’t posted it on my blog yet. I cried a lot but not because I particularly liked Julie or connected with her character but because I connected to the experience of losing someone. I’m not sure if that made sense or not. I also agree with you in that age may have played a role; had I been at an age similar to Julie, this book might have made a bigger impact on me. Again, such a great review of the book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OMG IT IS? Thank you for reading and appreciating my review 🥺 I’ve been trying to steer away from overgeneralization that is “I can’t connect with this character therefore this book is bad” , so yes, I get it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. i love this review!!! you answered a lot of questions i had about this book + addressed some of the concerns i’ve had (namely whether or not the author would be manufacturing sadness/trying to illicit certain reactions from readers). i’m still not sure whether i’ll actually end up picking this up, but we’ll see!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading! I think that it’s also partly because I’m cynical about the whole “this made me cry!!!!!” marketing 😅 the book still felt genuine, but I expected more

      Like

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