You’ve Reached Sam

You've Reached Sam book

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Book Review

Julie is distraught. It’s hard for her to move, much less talk to others. In fact, after losing her boyfriend, Sam, in a tragic car accident, her whole life seems to be tipped sideways. All she can think of is his sweet smile, his gentle touch, his voice. Julie even goes so far as to call Sam’s phone, just for the chance to hear his voice on the voicemail message. But then … Sam answers.

Plot Summary

How do you deal with something impossible?

After all, “impossible” things do happen. Getting that A on a test that you didn’t study hard enough for, for example, or finding a totally unexpected friendship in the midst of a group of people you’ve never been able to stand. Both are kind of impossible, but they happened for Julie.

For Julie, just meeting and falling in love with Sam Obayashi was impossible. All the pieces had to fall together perfectly for it to happen. But it happened.

And in each of those impossible cases—the test, the friendship, Sam—Julie had to decide what to do next.

With the lucky test, it drove her to study harder next time and keep the streak going. The friendship? She invested time and saw it grow. With Sam, their connection led to something of a total life-goal transformation. Because let’s face it, there are so many new possibilities in the face of impossible teen love.

Then Sam died in a car accident.

And that was the most impossible and completely horrible thing Julie could never imagine. All their plans for college, for getting out of town together, for taking a trip to Japan together, for spending forever together; it was all blipped out of existence in a heartbeat when that speeding truck crossed a double highway line. Impossible.

Since that day, Julie’s life has pretty much stopped, too. The heartbreak and grief consume her. She hasn’t been able to move, much less talk to others. She couldn’t even attend Sam’s funeral. She’s a hollow shell of a 17-year-old girl. Sitting on her bed day after day. Staring at the wall.

All she can do is remember his sweet smile, his gentle hand wrapped in hers, his voice—all tumbling over and over in her head. It’s like having an unquenchable thirst for the impossible. Julie can’t and never will have Sam back again.

The only thing she can hope for is to maybe hear his voice one more time before his parents shut his phone down. She reaches for her phone and calls his voicemail, just to hear him say Hello, this is Sam one last time. Or maybe two times. Three?

But when Julie calls the number, something unexpected happens: someone answers.

Julie … Are you there?

That voice, it’s faint and raspy like the murmur of the ocean in a seashell, but Julie knows that voice like her own. She’s heard it a thousand times on this very phone. But it couldn’t be … Sam?

Can you hear me? he says. Julie?

It’s not a recording or a message. It’s not a trick. That’s Sam. Her Sam. And in one instant all the feelings and unsaid things that Julie has had bottled up for the last torment-filled week splash out like an ice-cold, salty wave on a sunbaked beach.  It’s Sam!

Of course, it’s also completely and utterly impossible!

So, how does Julie deal with that?

Christian Beliefs

None.

Other Belief Systems

At first, Julie wonders if her calls with Sam are all in her head. Could she be having some kind of mental breakdown? But eventually it becomes clear that Julie and Sam’s connection is something else. “Maybe this is a gift or a glitch in the universe,” Julie reasons.

Later we find out that it’s possible for others to hear Sam, too. How it all works is never fully defined. There is, however, a certain set of rules about their calls—calls that become less clear and spaced further apart with time.

Sam suggests the connection is simply an emotional force that “gives them a chance to say goodbye.” Goodbye isn’t something, though, that Julie can easily say. She stretches the string of calls out as long as possible.

Nor is it explained where Sam is. He’s unable to define his location or surrounding other than seeing a view of endless skies or endless fields.

In addition to the secret calls to her dead boyfriend, Julie is also plagued with uncomfortable dreams about Sam and difficult situations. A foreign exchange student friend named Yuki gives Julie a moon crystal that she says will “ward away negative energy.” Julie carries the crystal with her, and it appears to help.

Yuki also suggests they gather friends and launch some memory lanterns on Sam’s behalf. It’s explained that when they release the paper lanterns (that use a small candle to heat the lantern’s internal air and cause it to float skyward), it will help a spirit move on. “The lanterns will guide them to where they need to go,” Yuki notes. She also says that the lanterns will carry any last “whispered messages” to the deceased. The friends gather and send the lanterns skyward in a memorial-like service.

Authority Roles

Julie’s dad left the family. She flashes back to a memory of her parents arguing and her mother throwing her dad’s clothes out into the yard. We never see Julie’s father other than that glimpse. As for her mother, she’s a teacher at the local college who espouses undefined but controversial ideas. In fact, her perspectives end up causing trouble when she spurs students into protesting.

We don’t see a lot of heartfelt moments between Julie and her mom, despite Julie’s obvious emotional pain. But she’s not totally oblivious, either. Mom does reach out and remark about their distance since Sam’s death.

Mr. Lee, the owner of the local bookstore where Julie works, is a caring individual. Again, we don’t see him often, but when we do, he is kind and very sensitive to Julie’s loss, reaching out to comfort her.

Once Julie begins to open up to people again, we see that she and Sam’s family once had a close relationship. They invite her to join them for dinner when she’s able.

Profanity & Violence

There are several misuses of God’s name and a few of “dang it.” Julie flashes back to going to a party with Sam and his cousin where high school kids drink beer. Sam gets a little tipsy. An after-party for a local film festival features a champagne fountain (though only adults drink from it).

We hear about Sam’s accident. And though it’s not graphically described, we are told of Sam pulling himself out of the wreck and then walking off before collapsing and dying from internal injuries. In a flashback memory, Julie, Sam and Sam’s cousin, Mika, (all underage) sneak into a bar to watch a music group playing there. While there, a drunk patron grabs Julie roughly around the waist, then he and Sam get into a shoving match. It’s Mika, however, who ends the altercation by using her martial arts skills to break the drunk’s wrist. Mika also stands up to some other school bullies and ends up with a bruise on her face after being hit with a purse.

Sexual Content

In the course of flashbacks, Sam and Julie kiss several times. We also discover that Sam’s best friend, Oliver, had feelings for Sam that went beyond friendship. Oliver never acted on those secret feelings, but it’s made clear that Julie “and Oliver loved Sam in the same way.” It’s implied that Oliver and another guy later develop feelings for each other when “sparks” fly between them.

Discussion Topics

You’ve Reached Sam talks of dealing with the painful loss of a loved one. But does it encourage you to say or do things with the living people around you? And if you know of someone who’s lost someone dear, how do you think you should approach or help them? Has this book given you some new insights in that area?

Psalm 34:18 says: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” How do you think God does that? And Matthew 5:4 says: “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” How do you think that promise works?

Where do you turn when painful things happen in your life? What’s one thing you can take from this book that might be helpful on that front?

Get free discussion questions for books at focusonthefamily.com/magazine/thriving-family-book-discussion-questions.

Additional Comments

You’ve Reached Sam has an appealing Twilight Zone-like premise. It clearly speaks to the debilitating grief someone can feel when losing a loved one, asking the question: “What would you say if you had one more chance to say goodbye?” And the story also suggests that personal healing from a great loss can be aided by friends and family connections.

That said, this book can definitely feel emotionally overwrought at times, as well as being very slowly paced. And though it’s designed to help readers work through their emotional responses to death, story scenes could be triggering for some.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Bob Hoose