REVIEW: THE TWELVE LIVES OF SAMUEL HAWLEY By Hannah Tinti

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From Goodreads

After years spent living on the run, Samuel Hawley moves with his teenage daughter, Loo, to Olympus, Massachusetts. There, in his late wife’s hometown, Hawley finds work as a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at school and grows curious about her mother’s mysterious death. Haunting them both are twelve scars Hawley carries on his body, from twelve bullets in his criminal past; a past that eventually spills over into his daughter’s present, until together they must face a reckoning yet to come. This father-daughter epic weaves back and forth through time and across America, from Alaska to the Adirondacks.

Both a coming-of-age novel and a literary thriller, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley explores what it means to be a hero, and the cost we pay to protect the people we love most.

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I’ve always been drawn to coming-of-age stories. The problem has been finding ones that appeal to me in terms of not just the character who’s coming-of-age, but also the setting, time period, and minor characters all needing to “click” for me as well. The Last Child by John Hart has always been my go to coming-of-age favorite and recently I’ve added A Brilliant Death by Robin Yocum to that very short list. Now, I’ll be adding The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley ….my list is growing!!

Twelve Lives is, at its core, a novel filled with suspense but, fear not, there’s also a mystery for all of us die hard mystery lovers. To start, we meet Samuel, father to Loo and husband of Lily who died many years earlier. Her death had been ruled accidental but as I got further into the story, I began to wonder whether that was true. There are many reasons this question entered my mind, the biggest being Samuel’s past. Through chapters alternating between past and present we get to know Samuel, starting around age 20 when he chooses to start down a path of criminality which leads to his first “bullet,”  that is, the first of TWELVE times he’s shot. The chapters follow his life through places like Wyoming, Alaska, The Midwest, and the desert, to the coast of Massachusetts where he and Loo eventually decide to stay and make a home.

These “bullet” chapters alternate with present day ones in which we get to know Loo, Hawley, Mabel (Lily’s mom) and many more of the unique characters living in the coastal fishing community. I’m going to be honest, some of the “bullet” chapters became a little monotonous and I found myself rushing to get through them to return back to the present which were my favorite parts of the book. I LOVED reading about Loo and being privy to all of her firsts…1st time shooting guns, 1st love, 1st time driving (illegally of course)…as well as her relationship with Hawley who seemed to hold her at arm’s length just a little too much as his fierce desire to protect her from his past was always at the forefront of his mind- it really occupied his thoughts and drove everything he did. I could really understand this because in his (criminal) past he left behind dead bodies, bridges burned, and many enemies made…he knew that one day it would all catch up with him. That’s what I meant by suspense and the author built it brilliantly!

The more I write, the more I’m thinking this is actually a harder book to review than I initially thought because there’s SO much I could talk about but in the interest of keeping this fairly short, I’ll just point out a few final reasons I really loved this book:

  • Pace – The author has crafted such a well-paced novel that I quickly became immersed in the story from beginning to end
  • Multidimensional, Flawed Characters – I’m not exactly sure how she created such vivid, nuanced characters, possibly it was her use of exquisitely fine tuned language, but the people in this story were REAL and alive to me
  • Themes – I loved how she examined the fluidity of time…wishing it could be turned back in Hawley’s case but also exploring how he and Loo both discover it actually marches on no matter how much they wished to change or stop it
  • Maine Setting – Loved it!! Small town coastal fishing community…I could picture it perfectly

If you like small town coming-of-age literary novels filled with mystery and suspense, I think you’ll really enjoy this read!

5/5 Stars

 thanks to Random House via Netgalley for my copy, I’m happy to provide an honest review 

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