Break out the tissues, because this an absolutely heartbreaking and beautiful story. Fans of paranormal contemporary stories like If I Stay, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and Kimi no Na Wa (Also known as Your Name), will adore Dustin Thao’s debut paranormal novel You’ve Reached Sam.
The story follows 17 year-old Julie after the tragic death of her sweet boyfriend Sam. Julie had everything planned for her future–move out of her tiny town, go to college in the city, fly to Japan for the Summer. And she was going to do it all with Sam. But now he’s not here anymore.
Wracked by grief, Julie finds herself isolated and alone. She couldn’t attend Sam’s funeral and she threw away all of his belongings. She just wants to forget. However, after finding a message from Sam in her yearbook, the memories of Sam come flooding in and she finds herself calling his cellphone to hear his voice from his voicemail one more time.
But Sam answers the phone.
Somehow, through some miracle, Julie is able to talk to Sam whenever she calls his phone. Though the supernatural connection is temporary, Julie falls in love with Sam all over again and with each phone call it become harder and harder to let Sam go. Also, keeping the fact that she’s talking to her deceased boyfriend a secret is incredibly difficult, as she still shares close bonds with Sam’s family. She sees their intense grief and pain, and struggles with whether or not to reveal the truth about her phone conversations, and risk the ability to talk to Sam for forever.
First of all, thank you so much for your time Dustin. The hype for You’ve Reached Sam is high here at The Young Folks.
You’ve Reached Sam covers an immensely difficult topic– the grief over tragically losing a loved one. Was it challenging to protect your mental health while writing such visceral and raw subject matter? This story already made me cry within the first few chapters.
Grief is definitely a difficult topic to write about—which I think is the reason it took me so long. You’ve Reached Sam took me a few years to finish because I kept taking breaks from it, sometimes several months. But it was also the story I kept coming back to. It was the story I needed to finish. There are moments of loss in my own life I kept thinking about as I wrote it, which turned the process into healing one. Because in the end, it was a story I had to write for myself.
I must add, the Paranormal Contemporary is a sub genre of YA that I find sorely underrated and one that I love very much. What inspired you to include this seemingly supernatural event with Julie being able to talk to her recently passed boyfriend Sam on the phone?
The truth is I think it’s something we’ve all thought about at one point in our lives. The chance to talk to someone we’ve loved and lost. I think that’s why the premise resonates with so many people. It’s an idea I kept with me for a very long time. I can think of a few people in my life I wish I could talk to one more time. In a lot of ways, writing this story gave me that opportunity, which ultimately helped me move on (even if it was in the imaginary). Quoting from the book, “Because those moments in our heads are just as real as anything else…” And I hope this story helps others through their losses too.
As writers, we all leave a small piece of ourselves in our characters. Who do you relate to the most in You’ve Reached Sam and who was the most difficult to write?
Love questions like this. I think Sam’s best friend, Oliver, came the easiest for me, maybe because I related to him most. He was the character everyone kept wanting more of. When I first signed with my agent, one of her first notes was “more Oliver.” After we sold the book to my publisher, my editor also asked for “more Oliver.” Who knows, if readers end up wanting “more Oliver,” he might get his own book (wink, wink).
As for the most difficult character to write, it was definitely Sam. I mean, he is a disembodied voice over the phone. I really had to be creative with how I could characterize him and make his moments just as visual and interesting.
You wrote You’ve Reached Sam during DVpit! in Spring 2019 (DVpit! Is a Twitter book pitch contest). Any words of advice for fellow aspirings author who also want to take a swing at this kind of contest?
DVpit was a real turning point in my life. The funny thing I almost didn’t do it! I had experienced a lot of rejection up to that point, and had a lot of self-doubt about my story. I also had maybe twenty followers at the time. Why would anyone care about [a] tweet? To my surprise, the pitch sort of blew up. It was liked and retweeted by maybe a hundred agents and editors. I couldn’t believe what was happening. It truly felt like a strange dream. I ended signing with my agent a week later!
My advice with pitch contests is always keep an eye on what pitches agents are liking to see the trends they’re looking for. And most importantly, look at what makes the pitch so compelling? Maybe you’ll even see what’s missing from your own story.
Finally, the time is coming for readers to get their hands on this beautiful and heartfelt story. What message do you hope your readers will discover as they read You’ve Reached Sam for the first time?
You know, as more and more people are reading the book, I’m learning everyone is taking away something a little different. But one message I hope comes through is this, “Letting go isn’t about forgetting. It’s balancing moving forward with life, and looking back from time to time, remembering the people in it.”
Bonus question: You’ve Reached Sam could be portrayed in any other medium (Webcomic, TV series, Movie, Anime, Kdrama, etc.) what would you pick and why?
Honestly I think You’ve Reached Sam would be perfect as a film. In a lot of ways that’s how I imagined it in my head, especially the flashback chapters which were inspired by movie montages that transition from memory to memory. Who knows… maybe I’ll have some updates soon….
You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao was released on November 9th, 2021.