TITLE: The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester
AUTHOR: Maya MacGregor
AGE RANGE: YA
PUBLISHER: Boyd Mills Press
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?
Buddy read with Malli! ♥
I really wanted to love this, especially because there’s so little nonbinary and/or autistic representation in books (especially from authors who are nonbinary and autistic, too!), but unfortunately even the amount of love I held for the diversity in these characters couldn’t redeem this story from how much the narrative voice and writing dragged it down.
Not only did the dialogue and characters feel stilted and flat much of the time, but the romance struck me as entirely unnecessary. I love a romantic subplot and it’s very rare that I wish a book had skipped it altogether, but Sam and Shep didn’t have any romantic chemistry and the formation of their relationship felt rushed and one-dimensional. The friendships between Sam and the other side characters were also difficult to connect to, with the only real exception being the surprising level of warmth I felt towards the unlikely closeness between Sam and Aiden.
I feel terrible for complaining so much, but while we’re at it, while the mystery did keep me engaged, the killer reveal was predictable and their motive was anti-climactic.
A slight spoiler – click here:
based on the reoccurring theme of hate crimes, I fully anticipated the killer’s motive to be rooted in that same plot, yet it wasn’t, and for some reason it left me feeling like the entire book had carried out all of this trauma for a half-formed purpose in the end.
All of the negatives aside, there were a few things I loved, and the greatest of these was, without a doubt, Junius Sylvester. Sam’s dad is an absolute shining beacon of wonderful parenting in a world of books full of lackluster or terrible fathers, and the fact that he was also ace/aro and a Black man (who occasionally touched on topics important to him specifically, such as the eggshells he walks on in his daily life to avoid being seen as a “problem”) was an added bonus on top of his unconditional love for Sam and his delightful dad jokes. Honestly, 5 stars for Junius alone.
Altogether, The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester is a book that I had high hopes for, but it fell short on almost every front. While I’ll still recommend it heartily to anyone looking for great nonbinary, autistic, and asexual rep (as Sam themself is also ace!), I wouldn’t go into it looking for a fully cohesive story or a thrilling mystery.
Thank you to the publisher for the review copy! All thoughts are honest and my own.
self-harm, ableism, misgendering, transphobia, homophobia, biphobia/bi-erasure, racism, emotionally abusive parents, alcoholism, murder, poisoning, anaphylactic allergy reactions, grief
Sam is nonbinary, autistic, ace, and uses they/them pronouns, and Sam stims (including self-harm stims); Shep is Latinx and bi; Junius (Sam’s dad) is Black, ace, and aro; multiple side characters are queer and/or BIPOC
— destiny ♥