You Reached Sam by Dustin Tao (Environment Books)
Julie is the elder. She wants to go to Reed College and write for a living. She dreams of leaving her small Washington town of Ellensburg and returning to big city life with her boyfriend Sam. But Sam is dead, and Julie’s uncertain future becomes even more dangerous when she finds a way to talk to him again.
Dustin Tao’s You Reached Sam follows Julie through her grieving process with a twist: the two of them can cross the line between life and death with phone calls. Julie must find a way to remember Sam by facing the reality of losing the one she loves and sorting through the pieces of collapsed plans and shattered dreams they built together. And this is amazingly accurate.
“You Got to Sam” is Tao’s debut novel, and it manifests itself in all its wildness. It seems that Tao genuinely does not care about careful choice of words and ingenious poetics, often changing times at random moments. Regardless, the story is compelling enough not to dwell on such things.
In favor of the novel, the rough but gentle style leans towards the narrator as the character’s choice; Julie is committed to a professional writing career, which explains her recurring writing diction. At the same time, she is a teenager facing the most serious struggle of her life. So it’s only fitting that many of the pieces are an intricate stream of consciousness, while others are patchwork of memories beautifully stitched together with movie-style transitions. Tao avoids the annoying trap of caricatures of his characters. Instead, he writes realistic adolescents who don’t always make the best choices but grow and mature quickly.
The thrilling premise of this youthful romance and the gorgeous manga-style cover promises an emotional ride. Tao does not disappoint. “You’ve Reached Sam” hits right in the chest in countless moments, hitting the mark.