cover image The Secret Life of Sam

The Secret Life of Sam

Kim Ventrella. HarperCollins, $16.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-294118-3

Samuel West just wants to go back to when his Pa was alive and spinning wild tales. But Pa, the only parent Sam ever knew, died recently in a car accident. Now, Sam is dragged from Bayou St. George, La., by his paternal Aunt Jo, who’s “stayed away... the past four Thanksgivings,” to her home in Holler, Okla. Isolating himself, Sam is buried in “thoughts... like spiders that hid away in cracks anytime you tried to swat them.” But when he finds a hollowed-out tree and “a cat with half a face” who leads him inside, he discovers a doorway to an alternate Bayou St. George where he’s reunited with Pa. Ejected back into Holler and only able to visit his father at certain times each day, Sam befriends Edie, a fellow seventh grader with an absent father, and learns more about his Aunt Jo, a veteran and an amputee who organizes Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Soon, Sam must choose between the two worlds before he becomes trapped. Ventrella (Hello, Future Me) brilliantly renders Sam’s gentle nature, defensiveness, and deep sadness; her evocative prose and the small but resonant cast shine, and Sam’s voice effectively relays his path toward the other side of grief. Ages 8–12. [em]Agent: Brianne Johnson, Writers House. (Sept.) [/em]