Sam, a novel of hope by Allegra Goodman
This satisfying and ultimately uplifting novel achieves the remarkable feat of taking us inside the head of a Sam, a girl who is sorting out her own identity and aspirations against the backdrop of a chaotic and struggling family system. What we get is an interior monologue that incorporates the messages the girl hears from her mother and other adults as well as her own growing perceptions of the world. The novel begins when Sam is seven and carries us through until she is eighteen. Sam is white, but to say that her family is working class would be an exaggeration. Her mother struggles to keep Sam and her younger brother Noah barely afloat, working two jobs but always teetering on the brink of financial disaster. Sam’s dad, a charmer, is a magician and an artist with mental health and substance abuse issues who clearly, out of love for his daughter, struggles to overcome these problems. Noah’s dad is from a more prosperous background and seems to offer financial stability, but he’s cruel to Sam and abusive to Courtney, her mother.
Bad things and sad things happen to Sam in the course of her growing up, but her mother’s love and determination, annoying as they are to Sam, and the efforts at love on the part of her flawed father, as well as her own strengths manage to buoy her up. A hopeful note carries us through this compellingly readable novel that enlightened this reader, at least, regarding the everyday struggles of the financially vulnerable.