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Book Review: “The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell”

◆ “The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell,” by Robert Dugoni

By Bill Kelley
Library Assistant, Alpine Branch Library

Sam Hill grew up like most other boys in suburban America. He made a few friends, had a couple of enemies, played sports, got good grades, and was just a little awkward around girls. Except Sam was different from all of the other kids in one extraordinary way. He was born with ocular albinism, which made his eyes red.

Robert Dugoni’s novel “The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell” is told in flashback, as the reader gains insight into how the adult Sam became the man he is, insecurities and all.

When he was born, even Sam’s father was just a little shocked. “What in Sam Hell?” he asked upon first seeing his son. It was not the only time people would be surprised by his appearance.

Six-year-old Sam is initially denied entrance into a private Catholic school because it is feared his condition will create too much disruption among the other students. Through his mother’s insistence, Sam is accepted, and fate then sends him on an incredible journey. Often called “Devil Boy” and “Sam Hell” by his classmates, he is constantly assured by his mother that his condition is God’s will. Throughout his childhood and into his adult life, Sam struggles to figure out just exactly why God has chosen him to lead this life.

At first, Sam is a loner, not only because he doesn’t fit in around the other kids, but they don’t want to be around him as well. That changes when Ernie Cantwell (the only African-American on campus) enrolls and they become fast friends. Before long, a third character, Mickie Kennedy, enrolls and becomes a huge part of Sam’s childhood (and adult) life.

While some characters may seem a little stereotypical (the great athlete, school bully, etc.), it is Mickie who really makes this novel so enjoyable to read. She is confident, sometimes foul-mouthed, says what is on her mind, and is likely the person most of us wish we could be if we only had the courage. Think of her as the female version of Ferris Bueller.

Is the novel perfect? No. In a recent interview, even the author admits it is a bit episodic, but even with its few faults, the novel is a terrific read. It will make you laugh, it will make you smile, it might even make you cry (but not if you’re Mickie Kennedy).

This book is available through interlibrary at the Lincoln County Library System. Review written by Bill Kelley, Library Assistant, Alpine Branch Library.