Sam Hill’s Story: Triumph in Tragedy

This book review by Carolyn Chen takes a look at “The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell” by Robert Dugoni.

Sam Hill’s Story: Triumph in Tragedy

Carolyn Chen, Staff Writer

The story of the outcast has existed for millennia, from Harry Potter to 1984, The Outsiders to Catcher in the Rye. It is a classic tale, yet one that still resonates with many readers. The Extraordinary life of Sam Hill may seem at first glance to just be another one of these stories, but through the hardship and realism portrayed by author Robert Dugoni, the reader is shown the deep complexity of Sam’s story.

The Extraordinary life of Sam Hell starts with a foreword, through which the narrative’s backbone is built. Sam Hill was born into a religious family, or at least, his mother was deeply devout. “God’s will” is consistently referenced throughout the story, as Sam struggles with the concept of a greater being who chose his life to be the way it was. 

It is impossible not to mention Sam Hill without mentioning his condition, ocular albinism, which caused his eyes to take on an unnatural red color. It is first mentioned in the second chapter, where Sam’s father says, “What in the Sam Hell?” and then is consistently referenced throughout. Sam’s condition is the primary cause of much of the conflict in the book, as he is berated by his religious surroundings as a “devil” for his unnatural eyes.

As for the rest of the book, it focuses on Sam Hill’s struggles through “Our Lady of Mary Catholic Church ” (a primary school) and subsequent “St. Joe’s High School ”. He is thoroughly ostracized, due in part to the bullying and harassment by his classmate, David Bateman. What is interesting about these struggles, however, is not the struggle itself, but the characters’ reactions to them. 

The characters are truly what make the novel impactful, as without them, the story wouldn’t feel quite complete. Other than Sam, there are 4 primary characters that serve significant purposes in the story. Ernie, Mickey, David Bateman (his last name is important too), and Sam’s Mother, who supports Sam through it all.

Robert Dugoni, author

One of the more interesting parts of The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell is how Dugoni chooses to feature Sam’s parents as prominent characters. While in most similar books, parents are either dead or left, Sam’s mother, and to a lesser extent, his father, are continuous characters that Sam relies on and supports throughout the story. And though he grows independent of these characters, 

Although Sam Hill’s story may seem to focus on his condition, by the end of the book, it is clear that Dugoni wanted to convey more than just “the story of a kid with red eyes”. Both Sam and his friends are outcasts, holding themselves together with each other. And in a way, their bond shows the inherent problems with the system that they were put into. Although they may have accomplishments and achievements, in the end, they are seen as the outcasts. 

Whether completely isolated or simply left out, being alone or unnoticed is a feeling that everyone has experienced one way or another. And while not everyone has red eyes, Sam Hill’s story shows that one is much more than simple deformities or “flaws”. It is about living in a world that doesn’t seem to want you, and still surviving despite it.