THE TWELVE LIVES OF SAMUEL HAWLEY BY HANNAH TINTI

Published 2017 by The Dial Press

Genre: Literary Fiction

My Rating: 3/5 Stars

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First off, can we talk about how gorgeous this book is? The inside cover underneath the dust jacket was a complete surprise for me and I ADORE it. The colors, font, materials, everything. It’s a perfect physical book.

Gushing aside, I think I have to say that the cover(s) might just be my favorite part about the book. I certainly didn’t hate it. In fact, I really did enjoy reading it. I had been excited about this one since before it’s publication–the publisher’s blurb hooked me and I thought the story sounded fascinating.

Normally I wouldn’t quote an entire blurb in my review, but I have to say, I really love this one. The publisher gives us this:

Samuel Hawley isn’t like the other father’s in Olympus, Massachusetts. A loner who spent years living on the run, he raised his beloved daughter, Loo, on the road, moving from motel to motel, always watching his back. Now that Loo’s a teenager, Hawley wants only to give her a normal life. In his late wife’s hometown, he finds work as a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at the local high school.

Growing more and more curious about the mother she never knew, Loo begins to investigate. Soon, everywhere she turns, she encounters the mysteries of her parents’ lives before she was born. This hidden past is made all the more real by the twelve scars her father carries on his body. Each scar is from a bullet Hawley took over the course of his criminal career. Each is a memory: of another place on the map, another thrilling close call, another moment of love lost and found. As Loo uncovers a history that’s darker than she could have known, the demons of her father’s past spill over into the present–and together both Hawley and Loo must face a reckoning yet to come.

A coming-of-age novel and a literary thriller that weaves back and forth through time and across America, from Alaska to the Adirondacks, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is an unforgettable story about the cost we pay to protect the people we love most.

The premise of this novel is solid and the potential is there, however I found that the novel fell short of what that gripping blurb promises. I loved the characters of Loo and Hawley, but I felt like they fell flat. I wanted more from both of them. With Loo, I wanted to see her struggle more as she learns about her father’s past and the death of her mother. I wanted to see her haunted by these revelations, I wanted them to be everywhere she turned. Instead, I felt like her feelings were minimized and we never truly saw her react at all. She went from page to page without changing all that much. After her nomadic childhood, I never expected her to be completely surprised by the confessions of her father, but I did expect there to be more of a growth with her character, more of something she had to struggle through.

Hawley’s character was the most interesting, given the stark differences between him as a father in present day and the man he used to be. I was absolutely fascinated by his indifference to Loo as a baby and his love for her that we see in the present day. But even then, I wanted there to be more of a progression, where we see a change happening.  I think there was so much more that could have, and maybe should have, been done with him. Did he feel remorse for the lives he took? What did he feel towards Jove? When did his feelings toward Loo start to change? I never expect to have all of my questions answered when reading a book, but I think there were some missed opportunities in this one. Tinti created such a wonderful character with Sam Hawley, but I felt like there were whole important areas that were left unexplored, things that could have brought greater depth to the novel.

This book is categorized as a literary thriller, and while it certainly held some mystery and suspense, I never really felt a sense of urgency. I thought we were getting there, when Loo starts to question what really happened to her mother. But while the blurb of the book tells us she starts to investigate the past, I felt like those answers were just given to us in the flashbacks, before Loo truly had to piece anything together. The questions were answered before we ever really got to wonder about them. I like the idea of weaving back and forth between present day and telling the stories of the twelve bullets of Hawley’s past. To have someone’s life narrowed down to a series of twelve events, twelve bullets, is the idea that really pulled me into this book in the first place. Can you tell the story of a life in bullet holes? While in theory I like the idea, I found that those flashbacks really served as an easy way out. They told us what happened without Loo having to do any digging, without things ever getting too suspenseful. Perhaps that was part of the idea, but with a book classified as a literary thriller, I really wanted more of that thrill and suspense.

I feel like maybe I’m being harsh, because those criticisms aside I really did enjoy this book. I think I just wanted so much more from it. The town of Olympus, Massachusetts was the perfect setting for the novel, and I loved the little details, Tinit gave us, like the way Loo’s father shows her the ocean and the little creatures that scatter when he jumps, or the tradition Greasy Pole Contest and the phrases written on the rocks to Dogtown. The secondary characters were all fascinating, especially Marshall and his mother Mary Titus. All these little details showed me the strength of Tinti as a writer and helped to fill in some of those holes where I felt the bigger things were missing.

For the most part, this was a good book. While it didn’t necessarily wow me, I enjoyed it and would likely pick it up again one day. In the meantime, that gorgeous cover sure looks good on my shelf!

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