________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 12. . . .November 23, 2012.


Truths I Learned from Sam.

Kristin Butcher.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn, 2012.
177 pp., trade pbk., EPub. & PDF, $12.99 (pbk.), $8.99 (EPub.), $12.99 (PDF).
ISBN 978-1-4597-0690-3 (pbk), ISBN 978-1-4597-0692-7 (EPub.) ISBN 978-1-4597-0691-0 (PDF).

Grades 7-11 / Ages 12-16.

Review by Karen Boyd.

**½ /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



For a few seconds my chest heaves, and my nostrils flare in and out like a fire breathing dragon. Finally I choke back my defiance and growl, “Fine. So tell me about this uncle.”

He’s kind of a black sheep, a free spirit, a bit of a rebel.” She shrugs. “He marches to his own drummer. It used to drive our parents crazy. It finally came to a head when Sam was about twenty-two. There was a horrible fight. Then he left. And he never came back. From that day on, my parents acted like Sam had never even existed.”


Seventeen-year-old Dani has an interesting summer ahead of her. Her mother is getting married, yet again, and Dani is being shipped off to an uncle that she didn’t know existed. While Dani initially dreads the idea of spending time in the tiny community of Webb’s River, BC, instead of Vancouver, it turns out to be a pretty good summer. “Uncle” Sam is a great guy, and he and Dani have a lot in common. As a bonus, Dani’s riding instructor is a really cute guy named Micah. Things are looking up until Dani finds out the truth about Sam; who he really is and why it was so important that she spend the summer with him.

     Truths I Learned From Sam is a gentle book about relationships. It does certain things very well. Butcher has created a very thoughtful character in Dani. Readers get to know her and like her. Butcher also paints a very descriptive picture of life in Webb’s River. Sam’s life and the people in it are seen through Dani’s eyes and her increasing affection for the place. The story meanders through Dani’s summer as she learns to ride a horse, attend a rodeo, and drive a standard transmission. Sam’s increasing visits to Kamloops, his worrying cough, and his smoking addiction weave themselves through the story so that the eventual revelation that Sam is sick confirms what readers were thinking, rather than shocks them.

     While I really liked Dani, I wondered about her responses to almost everything that happened in her life. The “dad” she knew seems to have disappeared from her life, and her mom has married and discarded several stepfathers in her journey to find something. These dynamics would suggest that Dani would be somewhat rebellious or at the very least suffering from some type of teenage angst. Dani does none of these things. She is competent, reliable, and thoughtful. She loves her mother unconditionally and easily adds Sam to her family. When a conflict does occur, it is dealt with in a mature way. In fact, even during the final conflict when Sam’s identity is revealed, Dani says:

“I think I should be mad. Or hurt. Or at the very least betrayed. But I don’t feel any of those things. I am surprised and a little overwhelmed but, oddly, what I feel mostly is relief because finally things make sense.”

     It seems an odd complaint to suggest that a competent, thoughtful teen is a problem, but it does conflict with many other teen characters we read about. Perhaps as Dani is on the verge of adulthood, readers are seeing her long past her sullen teenage stage. I hope teen readers can relate to her.

     This book does what it sets out to do, to introduce a thoughtful character and lead that character through a summer of growth. While there are some gaps in the plot, it is such a character driven story, they seem to matter less. Truths I Learned From Sam is an engaging read.


Karen Boyd is a doctoral candidate in language and literacy and an instructor in the Bachelor of Education program at the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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