With many thanks to Kelly at LoveBooksGroup for the opportunity to be included in this book tour in return for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.
Sammy is growing up within a loving family and just showing herself to be a real tennis talent. Her future,as she enters her teens, seems set when her world is blown wide apart in the cruellest way and her mother is diagnosed with and dies from cancer. Life will never be the same again as each member of the family – Sammy, her father and her older sister – deal with their own grief and the difficulties of living on. A house move, a new school and new peers all present Sammy with additional challenges, alongside an increasingly distant sister and a father working long hours. Her love and enthusiasm for tennis, which was encouraged by and shared with her mum, suddenly feels meaningless so she stops pushing herself and misses out on a big chance for sponsorship.
Her life feels like it is spiralling as she tries to navigate the uncertainties of the secondary school playground, new friends, romantic friends, the school prom and her tennis. Added into the mix is an eight-year-old girl who comes to Sammy for tennis coaching and an unlikely relationship develops. But without her mother how can she possibly cope? She needs to become a different person and to do this Sammy becomes “Just Sam”.
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This is a poignant young adult/teen novel which tells a story of love, loss, grief, relationships and moving on during the tough years of adolescence. The author explores tough subject matter and there is no sugar coating. Sam’s grief is raw and tangible, but it is also very private and not something that she wishes to share. Without her mother to be her cheerleader through life, she feels unable to move forward, so it is a nice touch from the author that it is a young girl, lavished with all that money can buy yet starved of parental attention, who helps Sam reconnect with the important things in her life. The family dynamic is well examined as Sam, her sister and their dad all grieve individually, in the mistaken belief that by not talking about their feelings will protect the others. No spoilers but there are several nice twists toward the end of the story.
The teenage relationships are depicted well with rival friendship groups, petty jealousies, miscommunication, envy, sexuality, feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. Ms Brown has built a rich cast of real teens, not from a glitzy teen soap opera, but rather young people with flaws and problems, hopes and dreams growing up in ordinary, often dysfunctional, families. They feel deeply, as only teens can, and struggle to balance their relationships, school, home life and hormones. The romances are full of teenage joy and angst in equal measure – the feeling of first love for Sam as her heart beats loudly when she glimpses the neck of a particular young man or how one youngster feels after trying to discuss sexuality and coming out with parents.
As mum to three adolescents (and having been one myself although they can’t believe this!) I do relate to this story and I really enjoyed it. I can empathise with the situations that all the parents face – they are all very different, yet all very relevant. I enjoyed watching the young characters grow, particularly Sam as she learns for herself the importance of moving forward from her mother’s death. With time her increasing maturity shines through as she accepts that her tennis isn’t something to hate because of the connections to mum, but rather her success in her burgeoning tennis career is a wonderful way to honour her mother’s memory. The characters all move on in life – as we all do – and the younger cast are learning to go forward no matter what is thrown at them. If I were to be very picky, I would say that for an adult novel I would have liked the end to have been fleshed out more – but I would describe this as adolescent/YA fiction and as such the tying up of loose ends is entirely appropriate. This is just the type of book that I would have loved as as a teen – great antidote to the literature syllabus!
I definitely recommend this novel and applaud the author for tackling some difficult life situations – bereavement, loss, love, sexuality, eating disorder, mental health, relationships – but giving young readers a very positive message for the aspects of life that cannot be controlled. A well written, sensitive, heart-warming and insightful look at the informative years! 4 Stars
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About the Author
Hi I’m Kristy and I live in the U.K. I have always written short stories and poetry. I went to university to study acting which I loved, but my real passion has always been writing. So now I write the kind of stories I would have wanted to read when I was a teen. “Kiera’s Quest-Awakenings” is my first ebook. There will be four in the series. I have written the chapters like scenes in a film, with the action cutting to different characters. It’s fast paced! Book two-“Sacrifices” came out August 2012(Muse It Up Publishing) Book three, “Perceptions,” was released in May. Book four, the last, was out Feb 2014. My YA contemporary romance book, “Just Sam,” Is available on Amazon in print & on Kindle. “Summer’s End,” a YA Paranormal series will be out shortly with ‘Muse It Up Publishing.’ My dream is to have them in print someday! I love reading YA angels,vamps etc. I love my kids and hopefully one day they will enjoy my crazy tales!