“‘What is it you want, Sam Sylvester? …More than anything, what do you want?’
…‘I want to live,’ I say.”
3.8/5 paper planes
What’s This Book About?
Genre: YA LGBTQIA+ contemporary fantasy (paranormal) mystery/thriller
Publication: 3rd May 2022
Pages: 352 (hardcover)
Synopsis: Sam Sylvester’s not overly optimistic about their recent move to the small town of Astoria, Oregon after a traumatic experience in their last home in the rural Midwest.
Yet Sam’s life seems to be on the upswing after meeting several new friends and a potential love interest in Shep, the pretty neighbor. However, Sam can’t seem to let go of what might have been, and is drawn to investigate the death of a teenage boy in 1980s Astoria. Sam’s convinced he was murdered–especially since Sam’s investigation seems to resurrect some ghosts in the town.
Threatening notes and figures hidden in shadows begin to disrupt Sam’s life. Yet Sam continues to search for the truth. When Sam discovers that they may be closer to a killer than previously known, Sam has a difficult decision to make. Would they risk their new life for a half-lived one?
Content warnings (highlight to see): ableism (re: autism); allergic reactions (serious); assault and attempted murder; bullying and threats; hospitalisation; blood and injury; queerphobia; reference to racism; reference to sex; self-harm; swearing; threat of losing a loved one; violence and reference to past murders
Purchase ‘The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester’ here through my Bookshop.org storefront! (This is my affiliate link, so if you order through this you’ll be supporting me, my blog – and indie bookshops! – at no extra cost to you.)
What I Thought:
First of all can we just appreciate this gorgeous cover? I think it’s one of the most beautiful covers I’ve seen in a while, and I love that it shows Sam’s tattoos, especially as they get mentioned a few times during the book.
The colours and vibrancy of the cover also convey nicely MacGregor’s vivid and often refreshingly original visual and sensory imagery. I really felt immersed in Sam’s story and how they experience the world as a non-binary and autistic young person on the ace spectrum. It’s a beautifully colourful story not just in setting – Shep’s (Sam’s new neighbour) room gave me major decor envy! – but also the variety of characters. I loved seeing Sam form their first friendships with other LGBTQ+ people IRL!
At times though, some scenes were slightly difficult for me to visualise action-wise, but this was really only the very small/mundane actions. These were things such as a hand knocking into a desk, or why Person A would say Person B was sneaking up on them when the scene seemed to have them both fully facing each other. The key action scenes were actually very easy and dynamic to read! There were also a few non-action-related phrases that were worded a little confusingly, but most of it was easy to read – at least in terms of words.
There is some pretty heavy content in this book, more than a few social issues addressed and the threats Sam experiences are really quite disturbing. However, this darkness was offset by the warmth and safety of Sam’s absolutely wonderful dad (who’s also on the ace spectrum!) and the bond that they share. This was definitely the standout relationship in the book for me! It was also quite a comfort to read about the school’s LGBTQ+ club, and the new friends Sam makes and seeing how they support each other. I also enjoyed seeing how some of the teachers really do seem to care about their LGBTQ+ students’ welfare. Unfortunately, the romance subplot lacked chemistry in comparison to the other relationships and felt unnecessary. I don’t think the book would have been fundamentally changed in any way if the romance had been left out, and I think I might have actually enjoyed it more if it had just focused on the other relationships.
The mystery element was engaging, not just with the shadiness surrounding the 1980s ‘tragic accident’ (murder?), but also with the slow revelations about what happened to Sam in their old town. There’s also some paranormal elements that lend new information in a very intriguing (and sometimes unsettling) way. I didn’t guess the Big Bad either! That said, I did have a few questions remaining at the end regarding the ‘whodunnits’ – there are several smaller mysteries feeding into the big one, which is why it was so interesting – and one of the supporting characters seemed so suspicious throughout (if you’ve read this, let me know in the comments who you suspected!)…but I guess I’ll never know.
This was a great YA debut with a strong voice, a compelling lead with important life experiences to share (and an absolutely amazing sense of style, wow) plus a shady mystery that kept me turning the pages. I’ll definitely be checking out MacGregor’s other work – I believe their next YA book is ‘The Evolving Truth of Ever-Stronger Will’, which a) amazing title and b) might be about a character called Will? and c) makes me excited for when the blurb is revealed!
Thank you to Astra Books for a copy for an honest review.