cover image Sam


Allegra Goodman. Dial, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-44781-9

A competitive rock climber comes of age at the turn of the 21st century in the bracing latest from Goodman (The Chalk Artist). Sam lives with her financially struggling mom, Courtney, and younger half-brother, Noah, somewhere in New England. She craves the time and attention of her dad, Mitchell, an unreliable traveling performer (juggling, poems on demand, harmonica) who struggles with an unspecified drug addiction. At seven, Sam discovers climbing and devotes herself to the sport, though her natural skill often crumbles under pressure. In high school, Sam is annoyed by Courtney’s constant pressure to go to college, and has to deal with Noah’s rage issues. Meanwhile, an attraction to her climbing coach, Declan, becomes a secret sexual relationship. She quits climbing when the dalliance with Declan implodes, then shuns Mitchell after he returns and claims to be back for good. As high school winds down, Sam faces a tragedy and waffles over whether to go to college or get a job to help Courtney. Sam’s mostly quotidian travails gain heft through Goodman’s perceptiveness, specificity regarding Sam’s emotions, and arresting turns of phrase (“When she heaves herself over the top, she is a castaway collapsing on dry land. Battered, broken, saved”). It’s impressive how much emotional power is packed into this relatively contained story. Agent: Julie Barer, Book Group. (Jan.)