55 pages 1 hour read

Dustin Thao

You've Reached Sam

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2021

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Summary and Study Guide


You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao is a YA contemporary romance/magical realism novel published in 2021. The protagonist, high school senior Julie Clarke, tries to cope with the recent loss of Sam Obayashi, her beloved boyfriend of three years, who was killed in a car accident on his way to pick Julie up. Crushed, Julie isolates herself—not attending Sam’s funeral or vigils—and throws away most of his things. But when Julie spirals into grief and calls Sam’s phone number, he answers. Through the magical connection of their phones, Julie and Sam have a second chance at connection, and the opportunity for them to grieve, grow and change, and say goodbye. Among other accolades, the New York Times bestselling novel was a 2021 Kids‘ Indie Next List Selection, a Cosmo.com Best YA Book Of 2021, and a Goodreads Most Anticipated Book.

This study guide refers to the 2021 eBook edition published by St. Martin’s Press.

Plot Summary

High school senior Julie Clarke has lost Sam Obayashi, her beloved boyfriend of three years, in a tragic car accident. Sam died one week prior while driving to pick Julie up from the airport, though she told Sam she could walk home. Julie has multiple dream-like flashbacks to her romance with Sam, including dancing together, working on songs, helping Sam through stage fright at his first music gig, Sam taking her on a college visit, and Sam comforting her during her parents’ divorce. He was always kind, thoughtful, and supportive to Julie. They had a healthy, encouraging romance built on trust and love, with plans to live together after graduation while Julie studied creative writing and Sam pursued his music career. But plans change with Sam’s death.

Crushed, Julie doesn’t attend any of Sam’s funeral services or vigils. She cuts herself off from the world, including friends and family. About a week after his death, she pushes herself to move on by throwing away all items that remind her of Sam, from his favorite denim jacket to CDs to gifts he’d given her. Julie thinks forgetting Sam is the best way to move on. After meeting with Mika, Sam’s cousin, who is distraught over the loss and upset at Julie for refusing to grieve or honor Sam in any way, Julie feels terrible. Julie regrets throwing his items away and races to reclaim them, but they’ve already been taken by the garbage.

Upset and crying, Julie runs into the woods and desperately calls Sam’s phone number. To her shock, he picks up. Sam speaks with her from the afterlife, though he can’t explain where he is or how they’re talking. Their magical connection is unexplained, but they treasure every phone call. Sam knows the calls have rules; the calls only work with Julie’s phone, she must answer if he ever calls her instead, and they must end eventually, when they’re ready to say goodbye. They share multiple long, intimate phone calls, conversing like before he died.

Over the next few months, Julie clings to Sam, but every call further isolates her from others. Whenever she talks with Sam, her phone doesn’t receive any calls or texts from those who need her—like Mika, Oliver (Sam’s best friend), and her mother. She misses important events, like a vigil Mika holds for Sam and other friends’ plans to light lanterns for him, because her phone never gets the messages. Julie becomes so preoccupied with Sam’s calls, she forgets to live her life or connect with others.

She tries to finish Sam’s songs, completing lyrics for him to hopefully get them on the radio. Processing that he’s gone and they can’t be together, Sam encourages her to stop living in the past. Sam doesn’t want her to spend time on his unfinished projects, since his time is up. He thinks maybe answering her first call was a mistake, since Julie can’t let go or accept that their calls will end. Julie refuses Sam’s logic, repeating that she’s fine.

One day at school, Julie is confronted by Taylor, one of Sam’s friends. She blames Julie for Sam’s death, as he never would have left the bonfire with his friends to pick her up if Julie hadn’t gotten upset with him. Julie stands up for herself, stating it wasn’t her fault; she didn’t drive the truck that hit Sam, and she told him not to come pick her up. Taylor insults her and accuses her of not caring about Sam. Julie pushes Taylor, but Mika interrupts with her martial arts moves, harming Taylor. After the fight, Julie tries to reconnect with Mika, but she avoids Julie as usual.

When Sam asks her to take care of Mika and his family, Julie goes to Mika’s house and asks for her forgiveness. Mika states that Julie disappeared when Sam died, so it felt like everyone lost not just Sam but her too. Straining to help Mika and explain herself, Julie calls Sam and reveals her secret connection with him. She lets Mika talk to Sam, who can’t believe the magical call, but the conversation brings her peace. She thanks Julie for giving up one of her calls with Sam to help her cope. All Julie’s phone calls after have a shorter, more staticky connection with Sam.

Among nightmares and flashback dreams of Sam, Julie continues through the last few weeks of her senior year. She bonds with Oliver, Sam’s best friend, who reveals he was also in love with Sam. She heals her friendship with Mika, reconnects with her mother, enjoys her bookstore job, starts writing a story about her and Sam, and looks forward to college, although she still misses Sam and their lost future. When Sam’s little brother, James, goes missing, she also calls Sam for insight. She finds James at the playground, who thinks Sam hates him because they fought before Sam died. Julie gives up another one of her calls with Sam to help James deal with his brother’s loss.

When Julie is rejected from her dream college, she can’t cope with the unplanned again. She calls Sam, who assures her that not everything goes as planned and she can adapt. Slowly, Julie accepts her unexpected path. She starts to find peace in attending the local college and transferring later.

At her high school graduation, the date of her last call with Sam, Julie at last accepts his death, though she’ll never forget him. They share a final call in which they proclaim their eternal love. Sam asks her to not pick up when he calls her right after, and he leaves her a loving voicemail that she can listen to over and over, which brings her solace. After the voicemail, Julie’s phone receives all the messages and calls she missed while re-connected to Sam. She moves on with her life, attending the local college, writing, and growing close with her friends and family, while never forgetting Sam or the lessons he taught her.