Jenna Bush Hager has selected Allegra Goodman’s Sam as the Today show’s first book club pick of 2023.

Goodman’s novel, published Tuesday by Dial Press, follows a teenage girl in Massachusetts and the college-age climbing coach who takes an inappropriate interest in her. Hager called the novel “about as perfect of a coming-of-age story I have ever read.”

A critic for Kirkus was less impressed, writing, “There isn’t enough texture in its treatment of the many serious issues faced by its heroine to satisfy readers.”

Hager said of the novel, “It explores what happens when one girl loses the wonder of childhood—the innocence of her early years only to reclaim her power and hope. Although it is a story of one girl, it will take all readers back to their own youth. I fell into this novel and read it in one sitting. Sam is the ideal book for all readers: those of you who read with us every month or those whose resolution it is to read more."

Goodman said that the novel sprung for the first sentence in the book: “There is a girl, and her name is Sam.”

“People have said to me, ‘What genre is this? Mystery, suspense, romance?’ And I say, ‘Well, it’s a coming-of-age story, so it’s all the above,” Goodman said. “It’s about a girl becoming human. She’s turning into a human being. It’s a very simple premise. And it’s also sort of the biggest thing that you can write about.”

Michael Schaub, a journalist and regular contributor to NPR, lives near Austin, Texas.