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The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell


The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell

Max and Maddy Hill welcomed their only son into the world with slightly different reactions. Max gasped with shock at first. Maddy simply smiled and said it was God’s will. See, Samuel was born with ocular albinism, or red eyes. His mother viewed this as a sign that Sam would be blessed with an extraordinary life.

Being so different, Sam wasn’t certain about that. Instead, his eyes made him a target for taunts and bullying. He just didn’t fit in. Even the Catholic school held that opinion, but Maddy forced Our Lady of Mercy to accept him as a student, earning him an enemy in the administration right from the start. So Sam, at only six years old, faces a new world in which the kids call him names and at least one nun doesn’t bother to hide her resentment of him.

His saving grace, aside from the unwavering support of his parents, comes in the form of a new student, Ernie Cantwell. As the only black child at Our Lady of Mercy --- maybe in the entire town --- Ernie is nearly as much of a misfit as Sam. The boys can’t save each other from every ill, but they can fight back with every ounce of their spirit. Then along comes Michaela, or Mickie, Kennedy. Not your typical Catholic girl, Mickie decides she prefers Sam and Ernie to pretty much all of the other kids. Naturally, Sam has caught the attention of the biggest school bully, David Bateman, whose mother can’t see her child’s faults and whose father has cruel ideas about raising his son. When Ernie and Mickie befriend Sam “Hell,” David becomes their nemesis as well. Surprisingly, they all survive school.

"Robert Dugoni has a rare and brilliant talent for infusing his characters with complex emotions. It is very hard not to ache for young Sam.... Frankly, this might be the best book of the year."

Upon graduation, the career each of them chooses is a fitting one. And even in adulthood, they remain friends and their families stay connected. The bonds they formed have only strengthened through all of their trials --- not that they don’t face many more. Unfortunately, David chose to stick around, too. And he never quit hating the kid with the red eyes.

Sam may have been destined for an extraordinary life, but he has trouble believing it. One thing is certain: this book about his life is absolutely extraordinary. It delves into the troubles “different” children face and how even adults in positions meant to protect them can fail. It explores how abuse spawns abuse. And it champions how faith can prevail. Sam narrates his life, looking back as he’s in his 40s. As a child, he didn’t understand, much like all of us, why things happen as they do. His mother’s mantra was always that it was God’s will. Sam grew to hate that saying, to the point that his faith all but disappeared. But Maddy never let go of hers, and she taught her son well. Their lives hit many bumps, but what counted was how they handled the bad times. Maddy was the mother who made Sam’s life extraordinary.

Robert Dugoni has a rare and brilliant talent for infusing his characters with complex emotions. It is very hard not to ache for young Sam. He’s a good kid. Not perfect by any means; a real kid with real faults, but good at his core being. At times, sensing what’s about to come his way, I almost wanted to read between my fingers, much like watching a horror film during the scary parts. Dugoni has that much power to draw feelings deep from inside. Yes, extraordinary. Frankly, this might be the best book of the year.

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on April 27, 2018

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell
by Robert Dugoni

  • Publication Date: April 24, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 428 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1503949001
  • ISBN-13: 9781503949003