Sam Holloway is a survivor, but he's not really living. His meticulous routines and quiet lifestyle keep everything nice and safe--with just one exception. Three nights a week, Sam dons his superhero costume and patrols the streets. Then a girl comes along and starts to shatter the walls Sam has built around himself. Now he needs to decide if he’s brave enough to take off the mask and confront the grief he’s been avoiding for so long.
This novel is exceptional ... swims to depths of grief unspoken, soars to heights of majesty rarely captured so fully in a novel, and leaps tall buildings in a single bound ... Author Rhys Thomas does a pretty good job of plucking heartstrings like he’s playing While My Guitar Gently Weeps and, in doing so, builds up an enormous reservoir of sympathy for poor Sam.
Thomas creates a charming world filled with real friendships, quirky characters, painful grief, and uplifting humor. This entertaining, romantic superhero story shows how love can heal the wounds left by heartbreak and lead the way back to redemption and happiness.
... though it takes its exploration to some moving places, its ensemble of weak characters holds it back from fully embracing the subversiveness that it aims for ... Though [main character Sam's] poor mental state allows us to develop sympathy for him, the writing does not make any effort beyond that to show us why he is worth emotionally investing in ... It is a shame that these developments do not come much earlier, because in the end almost every side character becomes far more compelling than Sam himself ... Rhys Thomas’ understanding of the superhero genre as an escapist fantasy is clearly grounded in its cultural history, though in The Secret Life of Sam Holloway he struggles to base this in the reality of modern day England with fully developed characters. Using Sam’s depression as a vessel through which we can examine the need for hope in a world overloaded with misery is the most interesting thing this novel does, as it sketches out the psychological undercurrent that has recently launched the Marvel and DC franchises into the mainstream. Unfortunately it never quite manages to fully make that connection, as it ultimately lets the idealistic tendencies of its source inspiration impede on its attempts to subvert its genre conventions.