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Review: You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao

Thank you to Wednesday Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book: You’ve Reached Sam

Author: Dustin Thao

Year Published: 2021

Summary (click here)

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.

  • Plot: 4/5
  • Characters: 4/5
  • Writing: 4/5
  • Overall: 4/5

You’ve Reached Sam is an emotional read about trying to make sense of life after bereavement and remembering loved ones who have passed away. Seventeen-year-old Julie’s whole world is upended after the death of her boyfriend, Sam. Wanting to hear his voice, she calls his phone and from beyond the grave, he answers.

“Letting go isn’t about forgetting. It’s balancing moving forward with life, and looking back from time to time, remembering the people in it.”

This is a really weird review to write for me because at the time I read this book in early 2022, I found the story quite emotive and it brought me to tears at the end but as much as I could sympathise, I had never experienced grief before. But now as I write this review that has all changed as my father died suddenly in June 2022. Now that I think about this book in hindsight, everything about it feels so much more personal and all the themes in it really do hit me like a truck. If I read this book for the first time now, I’m sure it would have affected me a lot more.

I relate so much to the idea of being desperate to talk to the person you lost just one more time, seeking some sort of closure. In Julie’s case it is still a double-edged sword because she gets her closure with Sam and he helps her to adjust to life without him in it anymore but at the same time she has to lose him twice.

The way someone experiences grief is entirely unique to every person and to every bereavement. I feel like Julie’s grief was quite isolating and over the course of the story she began to reconnect to the people around her who loved her and wanted to help her and also allowed her to realise that she wasn’t the only one who lost him and they needed her support too. It can be really hard to ‘grieve together’ with the other people who lost the same person because, again, everyone copes differently which can lead to clashes and also they serve as a reminder as much as a comfort. This was something that Julie really struggled with (and me too to be honest). 

I also loved how Sam’s death brought Julie closer to people she wasn’t close to before, especially Oliver. The way their friendship developed was really sweet and it’s nice to think that as tragic as death is, it can lead to new beginnings.

As much as it helped her cope, keeping a connection to Sam also held Julie back in the past and didn’t allow her to move on.  When Julie was calling Sam after his death, she didn’t receive any calls or texts from anyone else during the period she was talking to him which caused her to miss a lot of people checking up on her and making others think she was ignoring them. I thought this was a really creative way of showing how her inability to let Sam go was isolating her more and more.

I think this book should also serve to remind people to treat a grieving person with compassion. All of her classmates were extremely judgmental, blaming her for Sam’s death when it was out of her hands. There is even a part when she is late to hand in an assignment and her teacher basically tells her that grief is no excuse as the whole class already had an extension and “out there life doesn’t give you extensions. Even during the hardest times. So let this be a valuable lesson for you“. Firstly, failing to understand that Julie’s loss is different to that of her classmates, she lost her boyfriend after all. And secondly shouldn’t we show compassion during someone’s hardest time? Even if the rest of the world isn’t like that, why not set an example? Grief is already hard enough without other people making it harder for no reason, you would think this is just basic human decency but I guess a lot of people out there don’t have that. 

I would definitely recommend You’ve Reached Sam. I love the message that you never really let someone that you love go, even after their death, but you move on while safely keeping them in your heart. A concept that has really helped me is the idea of ‘growing around your grief’, even though your grief will never diminish or fade away, your life will keep going and grow bigger and fuller. Gradually, the grief becomes smaller in proportion as your life grows around it.

“You are my entire world, Julie. And one day, maybe I’ll only be a small piece of yours. I hope you keep that piece.”

Even though Julie would never do all of the things she had planned to do with Sam,  she had so many beautiful memories of him that she would hold onto. Her connection with Sam beyond the grave helped her to remember the beautiful parts of their time together so that she would always have a piece of him to treasure. Really, more than the grief and the loss, at its core this book is about Sam’s desire to be remembered with love.

So the message I want to leave you with is this: make good memories with the people you love because that’s what matters most in life— above all worldly things— so that even when you’re gone they will cherish you in their hearts.

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