You’ve Reached Sam is a book that receives a lot of hype on TikTok. Whereas I’m not using that platform, I wasn’t aware of that untill this book started popping up frequently in my Goodreads feed. Actually I first heard about it when the Dutch translation was announced. I’ve read the synopsis which intrigued me. However, I decided to read the English version because it was cheaper. Was this book worth the hype for me?
Title: You’ve Reached Sam
Author: Dustin Thao
Publication Date: November 9, 2021
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
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.
This book tells the story of July, who griefs for her boyfriend Sam who passed away just a few months before graduation. They had their future mapped out, they would go to the same university and live together. Nevertheless, they have been together for several years after their first encounter in the book store where July works. However, Sam’s passing changes everything. July looses herself in her grief and doesn’t want to have anything of Sam close to her, it’s all too painful. Her grief is this consuming that she looses sight of anything else in life, especially her friends who also were Sam’s friends. She neglects them and even pushes them away with her behaviour. This even increases when on one night she decides to call Sam’s phone just to hear his voice one more time. But he picks up… She savours these conversations and never want them to end. However, nothing is forever, neither are the conversations with Sam. Will they help July process his death?
The book starts with a prologue consisting of memories of July’s and Sam’s time together. These memories give off movie vibes and when you’re not aware of this, the story feels somewhat confusing at the start. These memories return later on in the novel, but then readers are familiar with them. Because the story starts with these memories, it’s hard to get a hold on it at the start. This changes with the first chapter. From then, the story is told chronologically and readers follow July in her griefing process.
Griefing is a different process for everyone. Logically, July griefs deeply for her boyfriend. She deals with it by forgetting everything and everyone around her and by losing herself in her grief. This intensifies when Sam really picks up the phone on that one night. July clings onto these conversations which makes her character quite insufferable. This becomes very noticeable when her friends are drifting away from her since she doesn’t seem to care about them and their grief as they lost their friend Sam too. July slowly finds a way to deal with her grief, but unfortunately her character never gets enjoyable. Since this book is character driven, that’s a pity.
Thao’s writing is accessible, allebeit not outstanding. The author is Japanese-American and some aspects of the Japanese culture have been intertwined in this book. Sam and his family have Japanese roots which became clear through the many mourning rituals his family performs surrounding his death. These cultural aspects give this story that little bit more the book needs to not be just another book about loss and grief. The paranormal features the story contains does this too because everyone knows that the dead can’t pick up the phone. However, all of this together did not succeed to invest me whilst reading this book. This mainly has to do with the fact I’ve stated above about the characters. I couldn’t stand July most of the time. Moreover, the side characters could have been excecuted better. Now, they felt just like a filler for the story. With their diverse backgrounds, they could have been more interesting to read about. Sam’s character is excuted a little more, which is necessary for the story. However, he failed to intrigue me as well.
You’ve Reached Sam is a book about loss and grief with a little bit extra. This is visible through the different cultural aspects and the paranormal storyline of Sam suddenly picking up the phone. Unfortunately, this book never really intrigued me, although the writing is very easy to follow. I found main character July often selfish and insufferable, whereas the other characters are underexposed. And yet they would probably make this book more interesting. Since this is a character focused book, it’s such unforrtunate. For me, You’ve Reached Sam is not worth the huge hype it’s receiving. However, this is truly personal. I believe that other readers could recognize themselves in this book.