Book Title: The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester
Author: Maya MacGregor
Release Date: May 23rd, 2022
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery, Young Adult, LGBTQ+
My rating: 4/5 Stars
In this queer contemporary YA mystery, a nonbinary teen with autism realizes they must not only solve a 30-year-old mystery but also face the demons lurking in their past in order to live a satisfying life.
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?
The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester is a deeply fascinating and engaging story about a non-binary autistic person who goes on a journey to learn about others, but really ends up learning about themself and what it means to be alive. This story is a mystery, but it also deals with a lot of personal issues as well.
First off, I just want to say that I really enjoyed this novel. I’d read a couple of reviews before beginning that said they weren’t really interested in the mystery, and while the representation was cool, they just couldn’t get into it. I’m pleased to report that I had the opposite reaction! I thought the mystery was so intriguing and interesting, and I was completely invested in the characters in this story. I will agree, however, that I loved the representation. Not only does this book feature a non-binary autistic character (which there are many non-binary autistic people out there, so this was so cool to see represented), but the author is also non-binary and autistic. Sam’s character is also one I was able to connect to almost immediately. I’m so happy to see more neurodivergent representation that’s different than the average white male who likes trains (of course there are actually people like this, but it’s a huge spectrum, and the fact that only a very small minority of it has been represented up until this point is just so sad). I can’t tell you how much it means to me and to tons of others out there to see more representation like this.
As for the book itself, I absolutely loved the family dynamic. Sam’s father adopted them when they were young and has been helping them to survive in a world that is so against them. Their bond was loving, sweet, and positive, and it warmed my heart during their scenes. Something else that I thought was so cool is the fact that Sam’s dad is a single Black man uninterested in marriage, so he decided to adopt. We rarely get to see anything like this (and if we do, it’s not a minority group adopting), so this was another aspect of representation that I greatly appreciated.
The friend groups in The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester were also really well done. Before moving to Astoria, Sam had only had negative experiences with friends, so having a group that was loyal and respectful meant the world to them. I enjoyed watching the group grow closer and more tight-knit as the story went on, and I thought they all complimented each other really well.
Additionally, the mystery aspect of the book was so suspenseful. I spent the entire book suspicious of every single person, and towards the end, I was on the edge of my seat as we were slowly figuring out what had happened. There was a big twist at the end that I honestly did not see coming, and at first I thought it wasn’t super believable, but as I reflected on the book, I realized that there had in fact been little hints placed here and there. Going in I thought that the mystery would take a backseat and Sam’s personal struggles would be the main focus, but I was so impressed with how the author intertwined these two plot points. They went together seamlessly, and while the mystery was being solved, Sam was simultaneously going through a journey of self-discovery and growth. It was so well done.
Really, the only main issue I had with the book was the fact that Sam was on the ace spectrum, but it wasn’t mentioned until 3/4 of the way through the book, and when it was, it was only mentioned once, and not even to their friends or girlfriend. I wish it had been expanded upon in more detail, because I would have loved having more really meaningful ace rep.
While the relationship between Sam and Shep was sweet, I didn’t feel a whole lot of chemistry between them, but honestly I didn’t mind. It was obvious they liked each other, and their interactions were endearing, so it wasn’t really an issue, it was just something I noted.
The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester is one book that I don’t think I’ll forget any time soon. It deals with several different topics including trauma and how difficult it is to process, and they were all handled with so much care.
I cannot tell you glad I am that I was able to read this book. It really spoke to me, and I was so engaged the entire time. There were points that I simply could not bring myself to put it down.
Is The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester on your TBR for 2022? If not, I’d highly recommend it!
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.