BKMT READING GUIDES

Sam: A Novel
by Allegra Goodman

Published: 2023-11-14T00:0
Paperback : 352 pages
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READ WITH JENNA BOOK CLUB PICK AS FEATURED ON TODAY • “I’ve been an Allegra Goodman fan for years, but Sam is hands down my new favorite. I loved this powerful and endearing portrait of a girl who must summon deep within herself the grit and wisdom to grow up.”—Lily King, New ...
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Introduction

READ WITH JENNA BOOK CLUB PICK AS FEATURED ON TODAY • “I’ve been an Allegra Goodman fan for years, but Sam is hands down my new favorite. I loved this powerful and endearing portrait of a girl who must summon deep within herself the grit and wisdom to grow up.”—Lily King, New York Times bestselling author of Writers & Lovers

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORS’ CHOICE • What happens to a girl’s sense of joy and belonging—to her belief in herself—as she becomes a woman? This unforgettable portrait of coming-of-age offers subtle yet powerful reflections on class, parenthood, addiction, lust, and the irrepressible power of dreams.

“There is a girl, and her name is Sam.” So begins Allegra Goodman’s moving and wise new novel.

Sam is seven years old and living in Beverly, Massachusetts. She adores her father, though he isn’t around much. Her mother struggles to make ends meet, and never fails to remind Sam that if she studies hard and acts responsibly, adulthood will be easier—more secure and comfortable. But comfort and security are of little interest to Sam. She doesn’t fit in at school, where the other girls have the right shade of blue jeans and don’t question the rules. She doesn’t care about jeans or rules. All she wants to climb. Hanging from the highest limbs of the tallest trees, scaling the side of a building, Sam feels free.

As a teenager, Sam begins to doubt herself. She yearns to be noticed, even as she wants to disappear. When her climbing coach takes an interest in her, his attention is more complicated than she anticipated. She resents her father’s erratic behavior, but she grieves after he’s gone. And she resists her mother’s attempts to plan for her future, even as that future draws closer.

The simplicity of this tender, emotionally honest novel is what makes it so powerful. Sam by Allegra Goodman will break your heart, but will also leave you full of hope.

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Excerpt

Chapter 1

There is a girl, and her name is Sam.

She has a mother named Courtney and a dad who is sort of around, sort of not. He lives ten minutes away, but he is not always home. Courtney says that’s the whole point.

“What is?” Sam asks.

“He’s never anywhere.”

“Yes, he is. He’s somewhere.”

“Very funny,” Courtney says.

Sam is seven and she never stops. She never helps either. Courtney is exhausted all the time—but it’s not just Sam. It’s Noah!

Noah is two and he has a teddy named Bill. He got a plastic ark for his birthday, but he only has one lion and one zebra left. You can’t teach Noah. You can’t even scare him. He thinks no is his name. Sam climbs up inside the doorjambs to get away from him. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the publisher:

1. For Sam, climbing is “not just a sport; it’s an art.” What does she mean by that statement? How does Sam express herself, and her unique vision, through the art of climbing?

2. Declan notes that climbing requires “half knowledge, half instinct . . . and a little bit [of] experience.” Discuss climbing as a metaphor for coming-of-age in this novel. You may also wish to factor in Sam’s burgeoning interest in geology—what does it take for Sam to feel grounded in her world?

3. Family instability is a major factor in Sam’s life (and theme in this book). Her home life is the exact opposite of Halle’s, for example; it’s also quite different from the multigenerational structure of Justin’s. What does the novel say about what families look like?How does Sam’s upbringing shape, disadvantage, or motivate her?

4. Talk about the two fathers at the heart of Sam. Is Mitchell a sympathetic character? How do you feel about Jack? Do either of these men’s struggles—with such issues as employment and substance abuse—resonate with you, and how?

5. What does Sam show us about the pursuit of the American Dream? What are the risks and rewards of following your heart? Finding your passion? What sacrifices do the adults in this novel, from Courtney and Adam to Beth and Ann, make (or not) on behalf of their children?

6. Sam’s mother tells her not to be superstitious. “You make your own luck,” Courtney says. But Sam isn’t so sure; she thinks that “other people’s luck can crush you.” Do each of their beliefs hold true throughout the course of the novel? How or why not? Which, if at all, do you believe?

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