ARCs · Reviews

ARC Review: The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester by Maya MacGregor

Today’s post is one I’ve been dying to post for months! I’m reviewing a super exciting book which I adored when I read back in February. I feel like this is one many people will enjoy, so let’s jump in.

About the book

I received this book from NetGalley and Edelweiss+ as an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ★★★★.5

Genre: YA, mystery, contemporary

Representation: Autistic non-binary ace-spectrum protagonist, black aro-ace secondary character, bisexual secondary character, queer latina secondary character

Content warning: Transphobia, misgendering, violence, abuse, murder, stalking

Release date: May 3rd

Summary: 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?

Add it on Goodreads. Add it on Storygraph.

Review

All I knew when I finished it was that I loved it. We follow Sam, an autistic non-binary person trying to rebuild their life in a new place after something horrible is done to them. Despite the extremely difficult topics—from hate crimes to stalking—it transmits a very hopeful and positive message. This book beautifully depicts different types of relationships and it incorporates some discussions about what living as a queer autistic non-binary person is like. Additionally, there is a gripping mystery at the core of it that will keep you turning the pages.

Firstly, what was possibly my favourite part of the book—and I don’t say this lightly because I loved all of it—was the relationships that were explored. The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester not only depicts a wonderfully diverse group of friends but it also heavily focuses on father-child relationships. Sam’s dad is a black single father fighting to keep his child safe, and his absolute devotion to Sam bleeds through the page. From the very first page you know that Sam and their dad have an extremely close-knit relationship based on trust and mutual understanding. Seeing this kind of relationship was truly refreshing in YA, where more often than not parents are either absent or not on great terms with their children. And not only that, but it was masterfully written because it didn’t sound cheesy or over the top at any moment.

Another aspect that I believe was crafted genuinely well was how Sam’s intersectional identities were represented. It was always incorporated in the most natural way—how it should always be—when they would casually mention binding or stimming in passing. This portrayal without recurring to stereotypes or being over the top is truly valuable as it definitely makes you empathise more with the characters. And, going on a slight tangent, it’s the reason why we should push for marginalised authors being the ones writing about marginalised characters.

However, that there was such a nonchalant representation of the characters’ identities doesn’t mean there wasn’t space for the pertinent discussions. Bisexuality, asexuality and aromanticism as well as being non-binary and autistic were all touched upon. There wasn’t any big spiel but rather they were just treated in a way that was relevant to the story.

Finally, I need to mention the mystery. Sam is trying to discover what really happened to Billy Clement, a boy that died back in the 80s in their new town. Everyone claims that it was an accident but Sam believes he was murdered. I loved how trying to uncover this mystery somehow helps Sam deal with their own near death experience. It is definitely a gripping part of the story which is really well-balanced with the rest of what’s going on in Sam’s life.

All in all, I really loved this book. The heart-warming exploration of family relationships and the depiction of a beautiful friend group made me tear up in more than one occasion while the thrilling mystery had me wanting to never put this down. Furthermore, the way that marginalised identities were treated with nothing but outstanding normalcy and respect throughout the novel was definitely the cherry on top.

About the author

Maya MacGregor is an author, singer, and artist based in Glasgow, Scotland. A fluent Gaelic speaker, Maya is active in many community activities in Gaelic music as well as writing contemporary YA and adult fiction (as Emmie Mears and M Evan MacGriogair). Maya has a degree in history and is passionate about writing the stories for teens they wish had existed when they were younger—and fills them with the type of people who have always populated their world. Their pronouns are they/them.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram 

Have you read The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester? What are your favourite books with non-binary and/or autistic protagonists?

4 thoughts on “ARC Review: The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester by Maya MacGregor

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