Love The Astonishing Color of After? Read You've Reached Sam Next (book review)
Updated: Mar 31, 2023
GENRE: YA Magical Realism
LENGTH: 293 pages
Julie is struggling to cope after the death of her boyfriend Sam. When she calls to hear his voicemail one last time she finds they are able to still talk on the phone via a magical connection. But will talking with Sam again help her heal or keep her from moving on?
Julie and Sam are both dreams though Julie is the more practical sort while Sam is more romantic. They are the epitome of an all-encompassing first love. We get to know them both in ‘before’ scenes when Sam was still alive and in the present as they share their mystical phone calls.
As someone who has experienced the deepest depths of grief Julie’s journey, while different from my own in many ways, touched my very soul. Julie’s coping style is avoidance, yet at the same time she is so desperate to hold onto the life she had planned with Sam. There is both a pain and a comfort in reading grief stories for me and I imagine others who have also walked through it feel the same. There is pain in the reminders of your own grief but a comfort in that feeling of being understood and bonded by that shared experience.
This is very much Julie’s story, but I was happy that her own grief wasn’t the sole focus on the novel. We also see grief from the perspective of a cousin (Sam’s cousin and Julie’s friend Mika), a best friend (Sam’s best friend Oliver), and a brother (Sam’s little brother James). Perhaps the most beautiful part of the novel was how, when Julie finally began to reach out to her living friends once more, they all came together to hold each other up. In particular Julie and Oliver form this special friendship. There are several messages the novel appears to be trying to convey but among them I’d argue is the importance of community and leaning on those around you during trials.
Interestingly, we also get the perspective of grief from the person who has passed. Sam expresses his sadness at not being able to graduate with his peers and the fear of not having left a legacy behind. I think this is a fear many people share; that of dying and being forgotten. This choice to include Sam’s thoughts on his death make the story all the more heartbreaking.
The novel is told from the first person perspective of Julie. As I already mentioned there are scenes from the past before Sam’s accident though it is primary told in present day. The past scenes have this filmy layer and they feel like a romantic movie montage.
Despite its relatively short length this book is truly a dagger to the heart. I don’t cry often reading books but I was tearing up at the story’s conclusion. I mentioned above there being several messages. I believe the primary one is that it’s essential for the living to move forward but at the same time it’s okay to remember. Essentially, moving on and letting go don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Julie will go to college and meet new people and start an adult life but she will always have Sam and the time they shared during her adolescence that helped to shape her. It’s an achingly bittersweet message that, even over 6 years into my own grieving process, I benefited from hearing.
I classified this book as magical realism because the phone calls are never explained within the novel. I typically think of magical realism has a soft kind of fantasy, but really this is a contemporary novel that is using this magical tool to tell its story. If you like books like Emily X. R. Pan’s The Astonishing Color of After or Sarah Addison Allen’s Other Birds then that’s what I can most compare this book to.
Of the 30 books I’ve completed this year at the time of writing this review this is my second favorite. It may be added to my favorite books of all time list at that. I will 100% read anything else this author writes next. If you have experienced grief in your past or your present then I recommend this book wholeheartedly. Yes, it will give you good, perhaps much needed cry. I suggest it to you, however, because this book is truly healing to read.