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  • Writer's pictureTerrie

Remarkable novel of a boy born with red colored eyes

book cover of The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, Robert Dugoni

Genre: General Fiction

Published 2018, 434 pages

From an author who usually writes legal thrillers, this novel is a major departure. The premise is: a little boy is born with ocular albinism, a condition giving him red pigmented eyes, and the struggles through his childhood and adulthood to find acceptance. Sam is bullied mercilessly in school but makes two lifelong friends that help him survive.


His friends, Eddie (the only black child in the Catholic school) and Mickie (a rebel of a girl) are also outsiders at school and the three become best friends. The characters of his friends Eddie and Mickie are excellent and their 3-amigos friendship was the best part of the book. Told in the first person, his reflection on his childhood and the bully that shaped his early life, is told with insight and skill. It almost reads as a memoir.

book and grass image from

A secondary major thread through The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell is his Catholic mom's firm belief in God and how she expected him to have an extraordinary life because of his extraordinary eyes. I didn't find the religious undertones off-putting - more a realistic portrayal of how faith can exist in a family.

"We believe we choose the paths we take when we come to those forks in our lives—the friends we make, the careers we undertake, the spouses we marry. But we don’t. Life is either a collision of random events, like billiard balls during a break careening off and into one another, or if you are so inclined to believe, our predetermined fate—what my mother took such great comfort in calling God’s will."

The book was very well written and caught and kept my attention. The long-term effects of bullying are shown and how hard it can be to overcome those taunts, even as an adult. The waning of his faith as he saw less and less "help from God" felt honestly handled, yet his mom's faith was unwavering, even in the most difficult times. The book had me in tears at the end - a very satisfying conclusion to the book.

"Our skin, our hair, and our eyes are simply the shell that surrounds our soul, and our soul is who we are. What counts is on the inside.”

In the afterword we learn that some of the elements of the story are based from elements of his own life - which always makes for an interesting perspective. This could be an interesting book club choice to start a conversation about bullying and about motherhood and the undying support of a mom.

Reading challenge: #ModernMrsDarcy20 (3 books by the same author (#1); #BooklistQueen20 (local author); #Popsugar20 (title with more than 20 letters). You can follow my challenges progress in the Challenges menu tab at the top of the page.

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