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Book Review: The Many Half-Lived Lives Of Sam Sylvester by Maya MacGregor

Book Review: The Many Half-Lived Lives Of Sam Sylvester by Maya MacGregor

Note: The Many Half-Lived Lives Of Sam Sylvester certainly feels like it reflects the modern realities for LGBTQIA+ people, particularly young people, and there is representation for multiple letters in the initialism, celebrating them in all their wonder and difference. However, the darker, harder side is also reflected, with queerphobia, misgendering and discussions of physical violence. At times it can be very visceral and graphic, which is worth noting for anyone who may struggle with this.

Maya MacGregor’s debut YA novel, The Many Half-Lived Lives Of Sam Sylvester, is the unexpected tale of a haunted town, a traumatised teen, and the fragility – and power – in having a safe community to exist in. Using suggestions of the supernatural and elements of conventional murder-mysteries, this story is grounded by Sam’s deeply personal and emotional journey. And it’s one that comes to a cathartic enough conclusion.

Sam is a non-binary autistic eighteen-year-old with a secret obsession with the stories of young people who died before they turned nineteen. When they move into a new house, in a new town, Sam soon finds out that they have actually stepped into the very room where one of these young people died. At their new school they befriend Shep, a young woman who lives down the road from them and has just as keen an interest in the death that occurred in Sam’s house as they do.

The duo investigate the mystery, while getting closer to each other, negotiating the perils of unravelling a long-kept secret, their own family dynamics, and a budding romance. Shep and Sam develop a close bond with all the enthusiasm and nervousness of teens, letting their youthful daring propel them into new and sometimes dangerous situations. As Sam wrestles with a recent trauma and the betrayal by a close friend, it’s heartwarming and reassuring to see how Shep manages to become someone important to Sam, while respecting their boundaries.

The Many Half-Lived Lives Of Sam Sylvester features a number of complex and kind side-characters; from Shep’s best friend Sky, a bi guy who is certain in his sexuality yet plagued by the pressures and fears of social convention and a bi-erasive ex-girlfriend, to Mr Quach, a school teacher who hosts the LGBT+ club, to Sam’s dad Junius, who has such a huge amount of care for his child. There are also, naturally, a number of antagonists, such as Sky’s ex, who claims to be an ally while being openly biphobic.

There are some great turns of phrase in this novel, but it’s also written in a way that feels a bit clunky to get into at the start. MacGregor’s narrative voice isn’t unclear, it just has a particular style that takes a little while to settle into itself. Additionally, there are lots of red herrings as the mystery unravels, and pieces that are collected which don’t come to any valuable end. For a mystery to close so quickly, with so few threads wrapped up, it does feel a little unsatisfying.

The Many Half-Lived Lives Of Sam Sylvester is an enjoyable read, as well as a good addition to the breadth of LGBTQIA+ YA novels currently available. It gives representation to a host of identities across race, gender and sexuality, as well as, specifically, autism – which the author reminds us in the end note can look and be different in different people.


The Many Half-Lived Lives Of Sam Sylvester was published by Astra Young Readers on 7 August 2022

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