What happens to a girl's sense of joy and belonging—to her belief in herself—as she becomes a woman? This portrait of coming-of-age offers reflections on class, parenthood, addiction, lust, and the irrepressible power of dreams.
Allegra Goodman delivers a portrait of a girl at risk that shimmers with an unusual intimacy and depth ... Tenderhearted ... As Sam grows steadily stronger and better at rock climbing, finding new routes upward where none seemed possible, her inner life shifts as well. In Goodman’s highly skilled hands, this metaphor never feels contrived. An exquisite slice of life bigger than its heroine alone, Sam is reminiscent of Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s 2014 cinematic portrait of a boy from childhood to early adulthood. That’s a high compliment. If it feels like Sam must live on in the world after the novel is done.
With her sixth novel, Sam, Allegra Goodman set aside the descriptive, lyrical prose style of her prize-winning novels and New Yorker stories to craft a stripped-down, elemental voice out of fidelity to her sturdy young protagonist ... Goodman faithfully creates the perspective of a child doing her best to understand the complicated adult lives around her and to figure out how to satisfy everyone's demands in a way that's reminiscent of Beverly Cleary's classic Ramona Quimby books. None of the nuances of adult dramas are lost on Sam, and Sam's instinct to gravitate toward the activities she enjoys cannot be dampened by rules or obstacles. Goodman conveys the protagonist's emotions so precisely that the reader feels them, too ... Sam is a novel for anyone who's witnessed a kid grow up, felt nostalgic, and yearned to watch the process all over again. Sam captures that unique magic of human development through the story of one steadfast girl.
In Sam Ms. Goodman has turned simplicity itself into a powerful tool for evoking how it feels to be young ... She is particularly good at revealing how adult speech shapes the way young people think about themselves and imagine the contours of their world ... In Sam, the heights our heroine reaches are not so dizzying, but that she ascends at all is a reason to cheer.