The Extraordinary Life Of Sam Hell: A Novel by Robert Dugoni


Now, as an adult with that healthy dose of  perspective we call experience, I realize my mother was right, as she was so often when it came to my life. We think we have control over our lives, especially when we’re young and seemingly invulnerable. We’re told we can do anything we set our minds to, that the world is our oyster, that all we have to do is shuck the hard shell and pluck the rich, nourishing meat inside. I realize now, however, that the shell is a lot harder than I appreciated, and that I never could have predicted the things that would happen in my life.

This is such a lovely coming of age novel but it isn’t all gooey softness. Terrible mean things occur, how can they not to a little boy attending Catholic school who the other children call “Devil Boy” because of his red eyes, caused by ocular albinism. His mother knows it’s a special gift given to him by God, one he will come to understand as he grows up. It was hard enough getting the school to accept Sam, but his mother took on the fight. That he be a discomfort to the other godly children simply because of his appearance isn’t enough to make his mother give up. With the school at first rejecting her son, his mother sees the ‘hollowness’ of the ‘christian ideas’ being taught. The champion of Sam,  his mother refuses to back down until her beloved child gets in to Our Lady Mercy, despite the cruelty of Sister Beatrice, her son deserves to be treated the same as any other child!  His mother has faith in God but more, in her son’s future, one she knows has purpose. Another’s faith isn’t enough to save a child from the taunts of his peers, nor the terrible loneliness he suffers. Sadly, it isn’t just children who wear hatred, adults aren’t immune to ugliness. When Ernie Cantwell (the only African American kid in his school) befriends him, he knows Ernie is his salvation. When Bully David Freemon hits Sam in the face with a rubber ball, it’s a moment that changes the future, when he turns his hatred on Ernie, it’s a moment for Sam to fight for what’s right! When he is caught, Ernie takes a brave step, in Sam’s defense. It sounds like a simple story, typical of school antics, but it’s anything but. A beautiful friendship is born that day.

He lies about his school days to save his parents from worry, Freemon’s actions change that. The reality of his ‘outcast’ status comes to light. He is smart, a gifted young man but terrible when it comes to making friends. Freemon certainly isn’t done with him, and commits a brutal act. With it, good things happen and a girl named Mickie enters Sam’s life, and remains there into adulthood. The novel flows between past and present effortlessly, and the future is just as engaging as Sam’s childhood. I went through a range of emotions, because there are moments that inspire compassion, outrage, love, and shock. There will be times when you rally behind a character and others when you hope to see them ‘get theirs’. Even the characters you feel so much animosity towards you may later understand, while not excusing the choices they’ve made.

Mickie is a pleasure, she is the fire needed! She is enrolled, a former public school student rumored to be sent to Our Lady of Mercy to be reformed. Naturally that’s not going to happen, she is intelligent and much more mature than Sam and Ernie. As the years pass, their relationship dynamics change and Sam meets an older girl named Donna who has a lot to teach him about love and lust. Donna is also the reason he lashes out at Mickie, passing judgements.

As an adult, Sam works as an eye doctor and he is about to learn the purpose of his condition through another child. His life has gone in a direction led by another, and it’s time he uses his eyes to see what he has become and maybe make big changes. I devoured this novel a month ago and couldn’t wait to review it. It isn’t just about the friendship between boys of different skin color, nor a little boy’s red eyes, nor the girl who has become so important to him.. it is about a mother’s passion for her unusual special boy, all the people who inhabit his world and how we sometimes allow others to steer our lives, handing our choices off to others without bothering to question everything we let happen. I even enjoyed reading the author’s acknowledgments at the end, please do as well. I think about all the people who have their own cross to bear, how different it could be if they too had someone their corner to champion them. Our life is about the cards we draw, lucky for Sam he has parents who saw a challenge as a gift, not a curse and what a difference support can make, rather than a fatalistic doom and gloom approach. In the end what makes us different, or an outcast, really can be the meat of our story!

Publication Date: April 24, 2018

Lake Union Publishing




3 thoughts on “The Extraordinary Life Of Sam Hell: A Novel by Robert Dugoni

  1. Robert Dugoni gave a presentation, and short reading, at the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library today. Here is part of what I’ll post on our blog a little later. “Mighty interesting sharing of parts of his life, his love of books, library memories, law school, living in San Francisco, moving to Seattle, leaving law – writing writing writing. Rejections rejections rejections. Success!! Cool story well told.” Would it be ok to include your review of his newest book? Many thanks.


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