by Dustin Thao
Publication: November 9, 2021
**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**
Everyone grieves differently. For Julie, her first instinct is to try to forget about her boyfriend Sam by removing all reminders of him including his jacket and all the things he’s given her. She doesn’t attend his funeral nor the many vigils held for him. After finding an unexpected message from him in her yearbook, she calls his number and suddenly she’s connected to Sam. With a temporary connection, Julie has a chance to do what she couldn’t before, say goodbye.
You’ve Reached Sam is a heartfelt debut from Dustin Thao exploring grief and what it means to move forward. Thao weaves the present with dreams and memories, magnifying Julie’s heartbreak along with those of readers’. There are a few times it is difficult to separate when the present begins or if we’ve crossed over into a dream; however, it partially helps to achieve what the grieving process can be like, living in a haze where things just flow into each other, where you want the truth to be a lie and the lie to be real. Moving forward, then, is difficult when all you want to do is hold on to the past as Julie wants to do despite knowing her connection with Sam is only temporary.
I’m not entirely on board the Your Name comparison except for the elements of magical realism and the phone as the mechanism for communicating. Aside from this, I kept waiting for a profound connection between the phone calls and moving on to be made on the page but I guess it was meant to be implicit and possibly open for interpretation instead.
As much as the book made me cry, which was just about every few pages, I couldn’t fully connect with the writing on an emotional level because the aching grief I expected was just short of present–it didn’t rip my heart out. Maybe if I was closer in age to Julie, it might have had a more profound impact. However, because I have lost someone close to me before, I connected with the experiences throughout the book: the pain of missing someone so much it hurts to breathe; the longing to keep them next to you because no amount of time could ever be enough; and the regret of never being able to fulfill promises made.
If you’ve ever lost someone you loved, You’ve Reached Sam will make you feel like you’re losing them all over again. It’s an exploration of grief that will wring your heart until your tears run dry because it gives those left behind the one thing we all wish we had, a second chance to say goodbye.