Fourteen-year-old Sam’s life disintegrates when her best friend unexpectedly dies.
Sam and Reagan have “been attached at the hip since” they “reached for the same bouncy ball in kindergarten.” They’re eager to start high school and try out for basketball together. When Reagan’s heart stops during a pickup game, a stunned Sam blames herself. A “zombie” during Reagan’s funeral, Sam withdraws, surrounded everywhere by reminders of Reagan. Unable to manage without her friend, Sam’s lost at school, and her grades dip drastically. Unwilling to play basketball without Reagan, Sam stops training and opts to not try out for the basketball team. Eschewing support from her parents, siblings, and schoolmates, Sam gradually realizes she may just have followed Reagan rather than making her own way. Desperate to talk to her deceased friend, Sam’s amazed when an incorporeal Reagan vocally intervenes, urging Sam to resume training, begin studying, try out for basketball, and engage with new friends. Buoyed by this contact with Reagan, Sam begins rebuilding a life without her friend. Stokes’ evocation of Sam’s crushing grief is effective; even readers will find themselves feeling claustrophobic in Sam’s head. Sam’s vulnerable, genuine first-person voice lends gravitas to her journey from debilitating loss to eventual emergence as a stronger “Sam-I-am.” Sam and Reagan present white, as does their small New Hampshire town.
A realistic, convincing, and moving debut portrait of grief and friendship with a basketball subtext. (Fiction. 10-14)