"The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell" by Robert Dugoni: Writers Read Post #9
This book kept popping up on a few discussion groups I follow and I couldn't ignore it any longer. I devoured it in a day and a half. It's a wonderful story with lovable characters, realistic situations, and villains you love to hate.
I usually read reviews and do some research before picking up a book. I didn't do any of those things here. I knew nothing of Robert Dugoni. In fact, I had read most of the book before I realized it's not actually a memoir. Sam Hill (Hell) is the narrator and he tells the story of growing up in Catholic school with devout parents and a typical existence in the 60's. Nothing is unusual except...Sam has red pupils. And that changes everything.
When his father looked at his newborn son for the first time, he said, "What in the Sam Hell?" And though his name was Sam Hill, the nickname stuck. More than half way through the book, I googled the name of his best friend who ended up playing in the the NFL. He didn't play in the the NFL because he didn't exist. I looked at the cover and it said, "The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell" a novel. I only mention this because it felt so real I never doubted it even though it has the word novel on the cover and the author has a different name.
There are a few things I love about this book:
1. The source of the conflict
In the book series I'm writing, one of the things I won't compromise on is that the main conflict doesn't come from the protagonist's family. There are plenty of books for kids about dysfunctional families. I want my families to model the opposite. They're not perfect, but the conflict comes from the outside and the family tackles it together. Dugoni did the same thing here. As a highly sensitive person, it makes for a much more comfortable reading experience. There are uncomfortable scenes, but the danger doesn't live in his home and the reader can take a deep breath without feeling so exposed.
2. The characters
Sam's mother is one of those characters that on the surface seems too good to be true. She's a devout Catholic, but instead of being a caricature, she's an actual good person trying to understand God's will. Is she too good to be true? I don't think so, but if you consider the book is from the perspective of her adoring son, it makes sense that her negative qualities may be ignored a little. I hope my kids would do the same if they wrote about me one day.
3. The perspective
"The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell" changed the way I see things. As a reader, you get to look through Sam's red eyes as people stare, ignore, and mock him. It's painful, but also triumphant as Sam grows into himself and eyes.
I hope you'll pick up this book. Clear your schedule for a day or so when you do because you won't want to put it own. If you've already read it, comment below to let me know how you liked it.