Looking for something to take your mind off of the election? Here’s another great Friday Favorite suggestion: The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, by Robert Dugoni. Although Dugoni is best known for his mystery/ thriller novels like My Sister’s Grave and Close to Home, he broke away from that genre and beautifully captured the changing dynamics of faith, family and friendship in this fictional novel about a boy, Sam Hill, born with ocular albinism, a condition that makes his eyes glow with firey redness, thus earning him nicknames like “devil child” and “Sam Hell.”
From the moment of his birth, Sam’s mother, a devout Catholic, refuses to see her son’s condition as anything other than “extraordinary” and “the will of God.” She fights for his right to be in parochial school, play sports, and be treated with kindness and respect. Of course, we all know how cruel the world can be to those who are different. Sam’s journey to adulthood is full of adversity and roadblocks, making him question the logic of his mother’s faith, but he also develops tenacity and resilience thanks to his parents and a small group of friends whose commitment to him is lifelong. The story comes full circle when Sam becomes a parent himself and realizes the gifts that have been given to him by his condition, as well as by his friends and family who taught him about love, self-respect, and the rituals that give our lives meaning and perspective. Truly an uplifting account of how empathy without pity helps support growth and resiliency.
Although its 428 pages may seem daunting, the book is actually a quick read. Some parts were laugh-out-loud funny, while others had me reaching for some tissues. I’m still wondering why it never made the bestseller list – it really is that good! Because the time frame covers the decades of the 60s and 70s, it’s also a fun look back at momentous events and transitions of the past; yet, the message of the story remains timeless in its commentary about why some people emerge from trying times stronger than others.