You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao // A Book Review

After I finished Six of Crows, I needed a new book to read until my buddy reading partner was ready to start Crooked Kingdom. So, on a Friday night, I pulled You’ve Reached Sam off of my bookshelf, where it had been sitting patiently for about six months, and started reading.

Little did I know that the book I decided to read on a whim would be just as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside.

Little did I know that this little 296 page book would make me burst into tears before I finished the first chapter.

Little did I know that You’ve Reached Sam would keep me up for the next four hours until I had to go to bed so I wouldn’t make myself sick from lack of sleep.

The Review

“But the truth is, no one experiences grief the same way, and we all come out of it differently.”

You’ve Reached Sam is a heartbreaking story about grief, second chances, and the hope that lingers in between the broken shards of a life we planned with such care.

This is probably the most painful story I’ve ever read because there have been times in my life when I was Julie…when I wanted a chance to say goodbye…when I didn’t know how to let go and move forward. I’ve always been a planner. I like to know what’s happening and I struggle with true spontaneity. This part of Julie’s story felt like looking into a mirror because everything she felt and thought was something that I could have written at a point in my life when grief was all I knew.

I lost a friend in high school. We were never close friends, but he was always nice to me. We were both seniors, and after he died my entire senior class fell apart. It wasn’t until he was gone that I realized he’d been the glue holding us together. That experience changed me forever because it was the first time I’d ever truly experienced grief.

Reading this book brought all of those feelings back. It reopened so many old memories of the people I’ve lost.

But I’ve learned that no matter how much time passes, grief never truly goes away… It is such a universal feeling that affects everyone differently, which is why these kind of stories are so important. When we’re in the midst of our grief, we think we’re alone and that nobody understands. But it’s stories like this one that reach into our darkness and remind us that we are known…that we are never alone…and that those we love will always be with us.

Content Warning

Death, grief, car accident, racism, cursing, alcohol, bullying, brief descriptions of kissing, and a side character comes out as gay to a friend.

If you have recently lost someone or are in the midst of grieving, I recommend letting this book stay on your TBR a little longer. You’ve Reached Sam offers a very raw and honest glimpse at how grief affects not only ourselves, but also the people around us. When I first lost my friend, I needed to step back from stories that involved grief as a main plot point, and if you need to do the same, please know that there is nothing wrong with that. You need to take care of you, and if that means taking a break from certain stories, then don’t guilt yourself about doing what’s best for your mental health during fragile times. ❤

What I Liked

The premise. What I love about this premise is that it relies on a question we’ve all asked: What would you do if you had a chance to say goodbye? Anyone who’s ever lost someone knows how utterly devastating it is to realize that you’ll never get another chance to talk to that person ever again. So, the idea of that one person actually picking up the phone when we just want to hear their voice one last time is not only compelling, but something that I think we all wish would happen.

After my friend from high school died, I sent him a text message. I told him that I missed him, and that I wasn’t ready to let him go just yet. It felt stupid to send a message to someone who was dead, but it was something that I needed to do. I never got to say goodbye to him, and there are a lot of other people who never got to say goodbye either, so I think that’s a huge reason why this book is so appealing and cathartic for people.

The characters. I’ve seen a lot of reviews from people who didn’t like the characters, especially Julie. But I think their reasons for disliking her are the exact reasons that I loved her. We meet her in the midst of her grief when she is literally at her worst. In fact, none of the characters in this story are portrayed in their best moments. Everyone in this story is completely broken. They are trying to make it through each day while learning how to live again, which is never a pleasant journey. In my mind, Julie is not meant to be an overly loveable character—she’s meant to be a realistic character. So, while I understand the argument that Julie is an unlikeable character, I think that just enhances her arc because nobody going through grief is fun to be around. When you are in that dark place, you aren’t thinking about being nice—you’re trying to think of reasons to stay alive and keep waking up because you truly don’t know if there will ever be a day that feels normal or complete ever again. And I think the author captured that really well.

The “before” sections. Normally I dislike how novels jump back and forth between the time before a character death and after a character death. But this one felt fresh and unique because all of the before sections are written in a way that creates this montage, dreamlike transition from one memory to another. I’ve never seen an author do this before, and it was one of my favorite parts of this book.

The way grief is portrayed. One of the most immersive parts of this story is how it explores grief. Ever since high school, I’ve been fascinated with grief because it’s such an intricate process of healing and learning how to become whole again. There’s no other comparable human experience, and it’s different for every individual. With all of those (and more) factors involved, writing about grief is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult things to do.

I went into this book with no expectations and only the vague premise of a girl’s dead boyfriend picking up the phone. I had no idea how anybody would deal with their grief…and nobody handles it the same way in the novel. Everyone’s experience is different, and I love that the author highlights this through Julie, Sam, Mika, Oliver, and the other side characters. I also really love how the story explores the impact that grief has on relationships and not just on an individual.

What I Didn’t Like

The grammatical problems. While these problems didn’t really take away from my lovely and cathartic experience of reading this story, I can’t avoid mentioning them. While reading, I noticed several problems, including a sentence fragment that didn’t feel intentional, multiple typos, and a missing apostrophe. I was disappointed to find these errors because I expected more from a traditionally published work. While I do understand that sometimes typos slip through, I think this is part of a bigger problem related to the lack of good editors in the publishing industry. *moves on before I slip into a complete rant about bad editors*

My Rating

Rating: 5 out of 5.

My Favorite Quotes

“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?”

“We stayed up all night, talking about what we wanted to do ten years from now, waiting to see that burning red glow curve along a dark sky, oblivious to the significance of seeing another day. And oblivious to a future when one of us would be gone.”

“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.”

Listen to my You’ve Reached Sam Playlist

Listen to my Sam and Julie Playlist

About the Book

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.

About the Author

Dustin Thao is a Vietnamese American writer based in New York City. He graduated from Amherst College with a B.A. in Political Science, and is currently in a PhD program at Northwestern University where he studies critical media literacy. He writes contemporary fiction, and his debut novel You’ve Reached Sam is a New York Times and USA TODAY bestseller.

You can find Dustin on Instagram, Twitter, Goodreads, and his website.

Let’s Talk!

Have you read You’ve Reached Sam? If so, what did you think? Do you have a favorite scene? Which quote makes you emotional? If you haven’t read it, is there an aspect that you’re looking forward to? Let’s talk all things You’ve Reached Sam in the comments below!

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