Grief Wrapped in Cherry Blossoms

You've Reached Sam

You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You are my entire world, Julie. And one day, maybe I’ll only be a small piece of yours. I hope you keep that piece.

Sam Obayashi

Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Henlo! I haven’t blogged in months, but I’m still alive! Harhar. Anyway, I really didn’t expect that writing my first book review of 2022 would make me cry. I finished this novel several months ago, so I had to peruse it and find a meaningful quote. Dude, Sam’s words broke my heart. Again.

For a bit of context, I started reading You’ve Reached Sam shortly after Lolo (Grandpa) Cris passed away (Ugh, this is so hard to write). Thus, Julie’s story of magically reconnecting with Sam after his death was very triggering—in a good way. Moreover, the plot was particularly…serendipitous? Like, Julie and Sam’s new conversations were on the phone, while the last talk I had with Lolo was also on mobile. Even though I know that he’s in Paradise, I yearn, almost every day, for another chance to talk to my grandpa. But for the most part, I’m thankful that he no longer has to endure any physical ailment.

I guess this is how grief works. It ebbs and flows depending on the level of love or attachment. The characters in this book exemplify that well. In one chapter, you think they’re okay and finally moving on, but then they suddenly become emotional on the next page or so. Sam had been an essential part of Julie and Mika’s friendship, and now that he was gone, they found themselves in a state of social imbalance, unable to interact without snapping, crying, or saying harsh things they didn’t mean.

I kinda resonated with that feeling of wanting to push others away, but only to the degree that my grief made me value my alone time more. Grieving with your family is indeed beneficial, but what if their faces are so similar to that of the departed because of simple genetics? It’s like a double-edged sword, right? It’s interesting how spending time with your loved ones can simultaneously cause pain and comfort.

The same principle applies to material objects. Julie had a box full of Sam’s signature items, like his denim jacket, CDs, and mixed tapes. Each object spoke volumes about her dead boyfriend, so she eventually got rid of them, hoping to accelerate the healing process. Now, I can’t help but reflect on how Lola (Grandma) Juliet gave me many of Lolo Cris’s things: his silver ring, Samsung laptop bag, collared t-shirts, and more. I love them, and I bet Lola also likes seeing me wear Lolo’s clothes. Not that I’m trying to be a shadow or phantom of my lolo. I just think that somehow, using his old belongings is a way to honor his memory or legacy. Hmm…I wonder what Julie would say about that if she were a real person?

Although I didn’t necessarily approve of how she managed her grief, I liked how she was always humble enough to recognize her mistakes and strive to do better. She was so in tune with her conscience or moral compass that she couldn’t keep her conversations with Sam a secret, especially to their mutual close friends. If I were in her shoes and could talk to Lolo on the phone, I probably wouldn’t be selfless and open up to others if it meant risking the miraculous connection.

Julie’s most remarkable quality was her ability to say goodbye. I loved the scene where all of her pending messages flooded into her phone when she finally let go of Sam. The word “goodbye” is simple, but when it comes to family, I suck at saying it. After all, it entails separation, which I’m not very good at. Hahaha. Julie used to be as clingy as me, holding on to Sam for almost 300 pages. Both of us were so invested in their flashbacks and wished that the Sam-and-Julie reel would never end. But then she realized that saying goodbye didn’t strictly mean turning her back and forgetting him. Instead, it meant moving on and enjoying life while thinking of Sam now and then. Rereading the book’s last few pages before writing this not-so-objective review was a bad idea. UwU

Ultimately, I loved reading You’ve Reached Sam because its melancholic yet hopeful narrative changed my perspective on grief for the better. I did say farewell to Lolo Cris last November. However, borrowing Sam’s parting words, my grandpa will forever be a small piece of my world. If you’re planning to pick up this debut novel, be sure to prepare a roll of tissue and find someone to hug.