Quite a departure from Dugoni’s dark novels about Detective Tracy Crosswhite (The Trapped Girl, 2017, etc.): the frankly inspirational tale of a boy who overcomes the tremendous obstacles occasioned by the color of his eyes.
Samuel James Hill is born with ocular albinism, a rare condition that makes his eyes red. Dubbed “the devil boy” by his classmates at Our Lady of Mercy, the Catholic school his mother, Madeline, fights to get him into, he faces loneliness, alienation, and daily ridicule, especially from David Freemon, a merciless bully who keeps finding new ways to torment him, and Sister Beatrice, the school’s principal and Freemon’s enabler, who in her own subtler ways is every bit as vindictive as he is. Only the friendship of two other outsiders, African-American athlete Ernie Cantwell and free-spirited nonconformist Michaela Kennedy, allows him to survive his trying years at OLM. In high school, Sam finds that nearly every routine milestone—the tryouts for the basketball team, the senior prom, the naming of the class valedictorian—represents new challenges. Even Sam’s graduation is blasted by a new crisis, though this one isn’t rooted in his red eyes. Determined to escape from the Bay Area suburb of Burlingame, he finds himself meeting the same problems, often embodied in the very same people, over and over. Yet although he rejects his mother’s unwavering faith in divine providence, he triumphs in the end by recognizing himself in other people and assuming the roles of the friends and mentors who helped bring him to adulthood. Dugoni throws in everything but a pilgrimage to Lourdes, and then adds that trip as well.
Although the author acknowledges in a postscript that his story is perhaps “too episodic,” his life of Sam Hell is inspiring and aglow with the promise of redemption.