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.
*I was granted early access to this novel via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review – thank you so much to Wednesday Books for sending me an ARC*
I knew going in that this book would destroy me emotionally but despite me knowing this, somehow it still managed to knock me sideways. You’ve Reached Sam is a beautiful, haunting meditation on loss and love and how to move on after a life altering event, especially when you can’t see a way through initially.
There is a lot to love about this book for sure – aside than that utterly gorgeous cover, I mean first class cover treatment or what? I think Dustin Thao poses such a great question; if you lost someone and had a chance to speak to them again, what would you do? What would you say? And given this second chance, how could you possibly let them go? There were so many utterly heartbreaking moments which made me cry, I would say every few pages there was another gut wrenching line or moment where you’re struck by how tragic Julie and Sam’s situation is. You know going in that Sam’s gone but somehow you want to wave a magic wand and just bring him back but you can’t and I feel like I fully went on this journey alongside Julie.
Part of what makes the story so gut wrenching is reading as Julie comes to terms with the fact that Sam is gone and although she can still speak to him, there’s the ever present reminder that it can’t last forever. It was honestly so sad reading as both Julie and Sam realise all the things that they’ll never get to experience together; leaving their small town, going to college, moving in together, getting married, travelling the world and the list goes on.
The idea that Sam passed away before he could achieve what he wanted in life, is another central idea and the sudden nature of his death is another element which was so painfully realistic. In an ideal world he would have lived and he and Julie would have had a whole life together, but sadly much like in reality, we lose people without any warning and I think many readers will be able to relate to this aspect of the book and as hard it is, I think it may also be cathartic in a sense.
I also really appreciated how grief is portrayed and really shows that there is no singular experience when someone experiences loss. I think there will be some readers who will find Julie annoying or abrasive in some way, but for me the way she deals with the loss, was actually super realistic – not everyone grieves in the same way and that’s totally okay. Grief isn’t linear and I feel like that journey, of ups and downs is represented so well within the story, as Julie and the other characters try to move forward even when it’s the hardest thing to imagine.
I will say though, I felt more connected to Sam despite the fact that he wasn’t a POV character than I did to Julie. Even some of the secondary characters felt more interesting to me, like Mika or Oliver, Sam’s cousin and his best friend. Julie didn’t strike me as particularly compelling and generally I like when I can really get into the mind of the main character and feel some sort of kinship but I just didn’t so some parts of the book dragged for me. The pacing was also slow going at times, and I guess this is to be expected with a more character focused and introspective novel but it’s something to note anyway.
If you’re looking for a thoroughly unique and heart wrenching Y/A Contemporary – then You’ve Reached Sam will not disappoint. Be sure to stock up on some tissues though, you’ll need them!
Until next time,