You’ve Reached Sam (2021)

by Dustin Thao
ASN/ISBN: 9781250762030
Publication: November 9, 2021

**I received a copy 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.

Yang Warriors (2021)

by Kao Kalia Yang
Illustrated by Billy Thao
ASN/ISBN: 9781517907983
Publication: April 13, 2021

**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Led by Master Me, ten cousins train daily in the Ban Vinai refugee camp. They have to in order to protect their families, which includes a plan to search for fresh vegetables after a week without any. They embark on this dangerous mission, leaving behind the five-year-old author to await her sister Dawb and the rest of the warriors’ return.

While I was born in the U.S., my family arrived as refugees.  I grew up hearing stories about life in Laos and the refugee camps, a life so vastly different from my own. The perspective of the author at five years old offers a different view of the refugee experience and affords an opportunity for children today to try to understand and possibly to even relate to the children in the book. Yang crafts an engaging story from memories of her time in Ban Vinai, drawing from the heroism of her older sister Dawb and her cousins. It’s a story of brave children in an adverse environment doing their best to survive.

The illustrations were exceptional, helping connect me to my family and the past of my people. I may not have experienced life in Ban Vinai, but the illustrations helped to tie my childhood to the Yang Warriors–what child hasn’t “trained” to prepare for their battles ahead? It may have been under different circumstances with different training for different missions, but the intent being similar, protecting those we care about.

It’s a heroic story that needs to be shared. It’s the perfect story to create opportunities to help my nieces and nephews begin to understand their roots.

Yes & I Love You (2021)

by Roni Loren
ASN/ISBN: 9781728229614
Publication: March 2, 2021
Series: Say Everything #1

**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Being bullied in school and living with a neurological disorder has rendered Hollyn Tate with a lack of confidence and severe anxiety in the presence of strangers, preventing her from meeting new people and making meaningful relationships outside of her existing ones. This all begins to change when Jasper Deares, the new hire at WorkAround’s cafe, enters the picture. Jasper is an aspiring actor who needs help with his career endeavors. When Hollyn’s boss requires her to start putting videos on her popular blog or risk losing her job, Jasper might just be the person she needs.

Yes & I Love You is a light romance with flawed characters and an abundance of positive messages to live by. Hollyn’s blogging allows her to do what she loves, giving her a platform to showcase how smart and witty she is but it also protects her from interacting with people. She needs an extra push to find her voice outside of her very popular online persona Miz Poppy. While she would like to meet people and be “normal,” her social anxiety and her self-consciousness over having Tourette’s serve as barriers. Jasper is a nice, aspiring actor looking for his big break. He has a strong tendency to want people to like him, a disposition he attributes to being a foster child, and he also has ADHD. He gives off the perception that he doesn’t have his life together, and to an extent, he doesn’t, but he is doing what he loves, so what “together” means can be subjective here as well as what “normal” actually is. Despite a disastrous beginning, their relationship is one filled with positive reinforcement. I loved the positive messages relayed throughout their relationship with each other–messages I needed to also hear.

I appreciated the neuro-diverse representation. While I can’t speak to how authentic the Tourette’s representation is, the depiction of social anxiety is done fairly well. Different people will have different experiences and symptoms, but I was able to relate to some of what Hollyn experienced. While improv might not be the solution for everyone, and it doesn’t necessarily “solve” Hollyn’s social anxiety nor is it meant to, it does help push her to take small steps to become more comfortable with who she is around strangers. Little steps and a willingness to try, along with people who support you, can help make a difference.

While I enjoyed the book, it would have been nice to see more of Hollyn’s relationships outside of Jasper. For instance, I wanted more of Andi, the talkative podcaster who researches serials killers in an office close to Hollyn. (The next book is her book) At one point, a girl’s night is planned, and then it never comes to fruition on the page nor do I hear about it again. I liked Fritz, Jasper’s friend, and it would have been nice to see a potential friendship established there as well.

Overall, this was an enjoyable romance. I was rooting for Hollyn and cheered when she made the first positive steps toward creating the connections she was looking for and the life she wants.