Disclaimer & Content Warning: mentions of death, book spoilers ahead
TikTok has convinced me to purchase many novels in the past and the last book I fell victim to was “You’ve Reached Sam” by Dustin Thao. Dustin Thao is a Vietnamese-American writer based in New York City. I decided to pick up this book as it started flooding my For You Page with young women crying because of the ending. That’s what sold me, I knew it didn’t take much for me to cry, especially over a book, but I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this book as much as I did.
To summarize the plot, it is about a young girl named Julie, who tragically lost her boyfriend Sam, in a car accident. One day when she’s missing him, she decides to call his voicemail in order to hear his voice, but the odd thing was, he answered the phone. They now have this second chance to connect and to say goodbye. The novel does have an aspect of magical realism which I do appreciate. Albeit the overall trope of person one losing person two in a car accident, a beautiful jealous blonde, a bitter family member angry at you for not mourning their loved ones death properly is something that has been used in many other books. Overall, it was engaging, even though the plotline and the way it was executed wasn’t very unique.
One thing I do give this novel and the author credit for is giving the main character a very unlikeable personality. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book, but I disliked Julie with all my being. My reasoning for this is because I saw a lot of my past self in her. I did cut her some slack in the beginning, but she was selfish, childish, and protected herself, almost, at the expense of hurting others. Though I do believe this makes her more real. When grieving somebody’s death, everybody has their own ways of coping and I understand that. However, Julie’s off-putting personality was not just in the present time, but in the flashbacks with Sam as well.
By “real”, it’s because she gives me the impression of someone who responds negatively to the idea of being loved or liked by somebody else. Julie did have parental problems and her initial problems could have stemmed from there. From what I understand, Julie’s trauma was reflected in her relationship with Sam and with others. It seemed as if she didn’t really have many people around prior to meeting him. She was cold, distant and unwilling to compromise for many things. The way I view her character is someone who is afraid of being loved or cared for because it elicits feelings of anxiety. It threatens long-standing psychological defenses formed early in life in relation to emotional pain and rejection, therefore leaving a person feeling more vulnerable. And people don’t like to feel vulnerable. She wasn’t used to the love she was receiving, therefore, she clung onto it as long, hard, and as selfishly as she could. Because once she got a taste of what she never had, losing it probably felt like a stab to the heart. Her love for him almost contrasts a fear of abandonment/ her childhood trauma.
You could feel how much Sam loved Julie, and vice-versa, but the way he loved her didn’t feel the same. Julie used her grief as an excuse to lash out and treat those who were around her like garbage, there were moments that I had to put down the book because of how much she irritated me. But then again, it seems more realistic than having a perfect character who’d do everything you’d expect them to do. I was disappointed at how her character was written, because overall the core values and heart of this novel really touched me. The last chapter was definitely a tear-jerker, and I loved every second of it. Though, “[I] know [I] would have emotionally felt more if [I] had cared about julie. but [I] didn[‘]t. and [S]am deserved better, tbh”.
Nevertheless, I did cry like a baby once I finished. But the reason I resonated with this book is because I could imagine myself in that position, with my current significant other, and it hurt. Like hell. I could never imagine that happening to me, nor how much pain each character felt. It wasn’t just Julie who lost Sam.
Overall, Julie got so wrapped up in her head and her fantasies about their future together, that once their bond got solidified, and broken again after his death— she became very unwilling to take a chance on someone again until she gained closure. Though she’s aware Sam isn’t coming back to life, she constantly calls him, just happy to hear him speak.
It hurt because if I were in her position, and my supposedly dead significant other picked up the phone, realistically would I be scared? Yes, but, I’d want to know why it was happening as long as I’d get to hold on a little longer. In the end, loss is inevitable, it’ll always hurt—and seeking closure in places that can’t give it to you, is feeding fuel to the fire. You’ll become more frustrated, angrier at your lack of answers. Might as well live the life that person would have wanted you to live.
For those who have suffered loss, my sincerest condolences and I hope you’re doing well.