The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell: A Novel

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Amazon Publishing, 2018 - Albinos and albinism - 448 pages
3 Reviews
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Wall Street Journal and New York Times bestselling author Robert Dugoni's coming-of-age story is, according to Booklist, "a novel that, if it doesn't cross entirely over into John Irving territory, certainly nestles in close to the border."

Sam Hill always saw the world through different eyes. Born with red pupils, he was called "Devil Boy" or Sam "Hell" by his classmates; "God's will" is what his mother called his ocular albinism. Her words were of little comfort, but Sam persevered, buoyed by his mother's devout faith, his father's practical wisdom, and his two other misfit friends.

Sam believed it was God who sent Ernie Cantwell, the only African American kid in his class, to be the friend he so desperately needed. And that it was God's idea for Mickie Kennedy to storm into Our Lady of Mercy like a tornado, uprooting every rule Sam had been taught about boys and girls.

Forty years later, Sam, a small-town eye doctor, is no longer certain anything was by design--especially not the tragedy that caused him to turn his back on his friends, his hometown, and the life he'd always known. Running from the pain, eyes closed, served little purpose. Now, as he looks back on his life, Sam embarks on a journey that will take him halfway around the world. This time, his eyes are wide open--bringing into clear view what changed him, defined him, and made him so afraid, until he can finally see what truly matters.

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I have never cried so much during a book. Both happy and sad tears. This book was incredible. I am at a loss for words to describe the magnitude of this book. The lessons within. The pain, the horrible moments that become us. The path to forgiveness and understanding towards others. Empathy.
I found myself peaking ahead often to make sure Sam was ok, I worried about him when I wasn’t reading and the last 6 chapters I sobbed in my bed at 3:00 am happy and sad tears. This has become one of my top books.

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The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell is a stand-alone novel by best-selling award-winning American author, Robert Dugoni. Born with ocular albinism (red irises), the least Samuel Hill has had to endure is being stared at. At Our Lady of Mercy Grammar school, after first being excluded by the head nun, he is called names (Sam Hell, Devil Boy), ignored, shunned, treated with all the cruelty children can devise and, eventually, falls foul of the class bully, David Bateman.
His only friend is the new kid, a black boy from Detroit called Ernie Cantwell, who can run really fast, (which comes in handy). While their shared discrimination forms a strong bond between them, it doesn’t save Sam from a beating. And despite Sam’s refusal to incriminate the bully, David’s resentment festers, to raise its ugly head many years later.
When Sam first meets Mickie Kennedy, he’s a little jealous that this feisty teen draws Ernie’s attention away, but he soon comes to realise that she’s actually in his corner: her dysfunctional home life makes Sam’s stable family a welcome respite, and his mother, despite her strong religious beliefs, is a valued ear. The friendship that Ernie, Mickie and Sam form will be lifelong.
Sam’s narrative is split into two main timelines: episodes throughout his childhood are tied together by the dramatic events of his early thirties. Dugoni gives him a mother with a ferocious determination to obtain fair treatment for her son, an unfailing advocate, because she is convinced that it is his destiny to lead an extraordinary life.
While the bullying and discrimination in this tale can tear at the heartstrings, there is also plenty of humour: young Sam often has the reader’s tears welling up on the same page as they are chuckling. It is clear from the acknowledgements that Dugoni draws quite a lot from his own childhood and adolescence for this novel, and if some aspects of the plot feel a tiny bit contrived, they can be forgiven when the bulk is so readable. A very enjoyable read.

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About the author (2018)

Robert Dugoni graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University with a degree in journalism and clerked as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times before obtaining his doctorate of jurisprudence from the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law. He practiced as a civil litigator in San Francisco and Seattle for 17 years. In 1999 he left the full-time practice of law to return to writing. He is the author of the popular David Sloane series of books and the Tracy Crosswhite series.

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