You’ve Reached Sam (ARC Review)

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.

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From the moment I first read the synopsis of You’ve Reached Sam, I knew we were meant to be. But as I journeyed through the pages with Julie, Sam, Mika, Oliver, and the rest of the characters, I found so much more in the book than I’d expected. Sam’s love of music, Julie’s love of writing, their shared desire to escape small town Washington; it felt like Dustin Thao had reached inside me and stolen my soul to write this book. A friend who read it before me said that the book reminded her of me and, aside from that being the best compliment I could ask for, I think it reflects the level of connection I felt with the book. In many ways, it’s what I wish I’d had at the end of 2020; a book to say it’s going to be okay, even if the world feels like it’s falling apart right now.

As far as characters go, to me Julie isn’t that likeable, but she is relatable. One of the reasons I think my initial instinct was to dislike her is because her approach to grief was the polar opposite of what mine would’ve been. That in itself though is one of the things I appreciated the most about this book; the showcasing of different versions of coping and the nonlinearity of it all. The real strength arose from character dynamics and their fluctuating relationships. They were messy and complicated in a beautiful way, and they brought so much to the table, whether it was Julie/Mika, Julie/Oliver, or any of the characters’ relationships with Sam (and their own grief).

My favorite part of the book was easily the montages, they were a wonderful piece of cinematic magic woven into the prose. While overall there was a slight feeling of something missing from the story, the flashback scenes captured the full potential of the book. In the second half I felt that the story ended fairly abruptly, and more time could’ve been spent developing some of the characters which only appeared later, for example Sam’s family.

Another thing I really appreciated was Dustin Thao’s depiction of the small town setting. Watching Julie try and navigate her way forward in life in the aftermath of her loss, balancing her desire to get out with the fear of leaving Sam behind resonated deeply with me. It’s easy to hate small town life and want to leave as soon as possible, but when you actually get to that stage it’s hard not to feel like you’re leaving people behind, and that’s when it’s easiest to think that wanting something different for yourself is a bad thing. These are the sorts of feelings that were a big part of last year for me, and I’m happy that Julie manages to stop feeling stuck in the past and forge a path forward.

You’ve Reached Sam is a poignant exploration of what it means to lose someone and have all of your plans shredded into pieces. As Julie sorts through her past in the present, she’s faced with the grief of others Sam was connected with, forced to decide whether she should risk losing her connection with Sam forever to offer them some comfort. I loved the unique concept of the book, but ultimately felt a little let down.

~I received an e-ARC from NetGalley and willingly reviewed it~

What are some of the best books you’ve read dealing with grief? What about failing to achieve your dreams?


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