☕☕☕☕ (four stars as rated in cups of coffee from the shop where Sam and Julie’s story first began)
It’s been only a few days since Sam died with his high school graduation mere weeks away. Julie, his bereaved girlfriend, can not cope. Or really, she refuses to cope. Totally beside herself with grief – and guilt surrounding the circumstances of Sam’s death – Julie retreats into herself in the days that following the car accident that changed her life. She is determined to push it all away; to block everyone and everything out. That is until one night she breaks down and calls Sam’s phone just to listen to his voicemail one last time. She realizes she shouldn’t. She knows it won’t help her heal. And she decides she must be losing it when Sam picks up the phone.
“Who are you writing for again?” Mr. Lee asks, arching a brow. He asked me this before. I know the answer he wants to hear. I write for myself. I’m not sure what this really means, though. I can’t help caring about what people think, especially about my writing. “We have too many voices inside our heads. You have to pick out the ones that mean something to you. What story do you want to tell?”Dustin Thao, You’ve Reached Sam
This book is a treasure from SO many different angles. The unhelpful and unwarranted manifestations of Julie’s grief was especially palpable to me personally. We get to see all these layers of her mourning process – starting with denial and even bargaining – that ultimately lead her to a place of reluctant acceptance. When my dad died I remember my friend telling me, “It’s okay if you grieve now or if you grieve in six months. There really is no schedule and however you do it is okay.” I certainly needed to hear that at the time and I wish someone had been there to tell that to Julie. Because there is absolutely nothing graceful about bereavement. Loss is a messy process. Watching Julie sabotage herself with a deep and desperate sadness that bordered on frustrating for me as a reader, was honestly a brilliant move by Thao. You’ve Reached Sam will speak to anyone that has had to say goodbye to a loved one or, honestly, anyone that has watched someone else have to do the same. In my experience, it can be nearly as devastating to witness someone tearing them-self apart with anguish as it can be to experience it personally.
You’ve Reached Sam was another buddy read with my friend Amanda of Bookish Brews. It’s become a tradition of ours to make mood boards for our buddy reads (and most of our other reads, let’s be honest, b/c aesthetic boards are super fun.) Our discord channel for this book was just as full of joy at the OUTSTANDING rep given to multiple East Asian characters as it was full of crying emojis and hearts. There were so many moments we mutually enthused over – many of which I tried to capture to some extent in my flat lay and aesthetic board. I hesitate to say more as I don’t want to give anything away. So, I’ll just leave you with a quote from Amanda’s review:
💞 Young Love
🎓 High School
✨ Magical Realism
💔 Grief and Love
✨ Rep in this book: Multiple East Asian characters, gay supporting characters
✨ Content warnings for this book: car accident, divorce, death of a partner, trauma, grief, racism, bullying
I was given a free review copy of this book by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author: Dustin Thao
Dustin Thao is a Vietnamese American writer based in Chicago. He graduated from Amherst College with a B.A. in Political Science, and is currently in a PhD program at Northwestern University. He writes contemporary fiction, and his debut novel You’ve Reached Sam will be published November 2021 with Wednesday Books. (Copied from the author’s personal website.)
Personal note: girl on gratitude
Thanks so much to Dustin Thao, Wednesday Books and Netgalley for the advanced review copy of this book. And thanks to Amanda for reading it with me! ❤ Also, thank you to EVERYONE who voted for books on my DNF List post. Y’all have spoken and I will be revisiting A Song Below Water in May!