The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell: Robert Dugoni
Differences make us the individuals we are whether it’s race, color, profession or economic background. Values are taught to children at a young age and parents when they are vigilant make sure that carry over during their school years and into adulthood. Sam Hill was born with a disability that had nothing to do with his intelligence or what would later be his successes and failures in life. Sam was born with red eyes called ocular albinism. He saw the world through his eyes and what he viewed and the pictures of his surrounding was nowhere near what everyone else saw. But, although Sam knew he was different it was not until he was bullied, felt the wrath of a school principal who would make his life miserable and the discrimination those that are different are subject too, that Sam realized that life was not going to be smooth and the obstacles he would face just might make him stronger. Welcome to life of a remarkable young man and adult Sam Hell!
When realizing that her son was different Madeline Hill did not hesitate to become his champion and make sure that he received the same considerations as other children his own age starting with enrolling him in private school that would either make or break him.
Let’s take it from the beginning when Mrs. Hill was told that her son had red eyes and the answers she gave to the doctors and nurses. First we meet Eva who was his girlfriend in the present who refused to get married and demanded Sam gets a vasectomy. Fortunately, he stood his ground and let the doctor’s office in tact. Eva complained a lot and Sam realized that maybe she might be the wrong person. She reenters the story later on but first his birth and his mother’s reaction to learning that he had red eyes as she tells him the story at a young age and relives the experience along with his father. His parents were amazing, supportive but his mother was relentless and would make sure that he knew he was proud of him and his mother demanded to take him home as the nurse handed him to her in a blanket. Someone said: WHAT THE SAM HELL!
The doctor on call was asked why his eyes were red and the sad part was he had no answer he did not know. His mother always said: It’s God’s will whether something good or bad happened. Throughout the novel you wonder just how Madeline Hill withstood the bad and managed to turn it into the good as his father Matthew would wonder just how he was going to fair at times. Sam was smart from the start and his mother knew as she recorded every step of his life, that he would do great things. But, first he would endure ridicule, bullying and many obstacles that a first grader under any other circumstances would have faltered. But, not Sam!
OLM is the school that his mother wanted him admitted to and Our Lady of Mercy did not have enough spots for every applicant. Sister Beatrice greeted them in her austere manner and this would show just how she had no compassion or empathy for anyone mainly Sam.
Sam was denied admission and his mother would not take the shun as she repeated that he was called the devil boy and the school did nothing about. Would the other children be insensitive to Sam’s issues or is Sister Beatrice playing her own views on them? A press conference would stir it up more and Sam would be accepted but at what cost? Father Brogan ran the school and his experience would carry over even as an adult. All alone during recess and lunch until he met the one person who would be his lifelong friend Ernie an African American boy who would be more than just a student in the school but grow to be an outstanding football star. David Freeman would be his worst nightmare harassing and threatening him as he made sure that Sam knew he was in charge but later on in life that would change. But, Sam fought back and got suspended but the end result would change the dynamics of the school and although Sister Beatrice claimed she saw him assault another student sometimes the truth just might win out as his parents learned the truth about his lack of friends except for Ernie.
Life changes after a while as the author brings the story to the present when Sam is asked to help a young mother whose daughter has a serious vision problem and needs his surgical skills. But, learning that his nemesis David Freeman is the child’s father would put him in the crosshairs for more trouble to come as we meet Mickie his partner in his practice and who would become an important person and true friend in his life. Meeting her as a youngster they became best friends except when they were not. Eva finally started to take a back seat in the present but his father hired a girl named Donna who taught him many life lessons but used him for her own purposes teaching Sam to have trust issues in the future. Added in the incident with the mechanic which but friendships would grow and relationships would hang in balance as Sam, Mickie, Ernie and became a group but David Freeman when they went to a baseball game and his two henchmen would ruin his bike and beat him up but Sam was resilient and the end result was a confrontation that would change it all but would the school belief Sam that they beat him up and destroyed his new bike? The mother of Daniela was Trina Crunch and her fear of David as an adult would do more harm to her and her family before all was said and done.
The story continues to flashback and forth as Sam and his friendships grow when Ernie gets suspended for using bad language and Sister Beatrice seems to have it in for both him and Sam. Bullying is wrong and there should have been a no toleration policy in place in the school but when the Sister in charge is just as guilty what recourse does a student have?
Michaela Kennedy or Mickie becomes his best pal and warns him about other relationships while having many of her own. But, she and Ernie remain steadfast in his life and although there are many ups and downs their friendships are strong even when there is discord.
Playing on the football team Sam learns that he’s really not great and might be cut as the coach suggests that he takes on the roll of reporter for the Times and report on sports events which definitely benefitted his Ernie’s career. His father was proud and displayed all of his articles from the Friar and the Times but things change as Ernie’s popularity grows and graduation from high school would prove another way to discriminate against Sam when Ernie is chosen valedictorian instead of him and what Ernie and his parents tell the Hill’s when they arrive at their home will bring smiles of friendship to every reader’s eyes. ‘
Things take a difficult turn when after High School Graduation and knowing he got into Stanford his father has a stroke and he makes a decision that only a devoted son would make. Taking a year’s leave off from college Sam would take on the responsibility of running the pharmacy, hiring a new pharmacist, doing the books, deliveries and handling everything to make sure that his father’s business was running and his mother had the money needed for his care. With his father in the hospital and his mother remaining there to stay with him they had to realize that the only solution might not be what they wanted but placing him in long term care in a facility that they both felt comfortable with. Each day his mother would get up early and stay there until visiting hours were over and this took place for a number of years while Sam ran the business.
Like certain items that you won’t give up Mickie became a staple in his life and no matter how many times they quarreled or disagreed you get the feeling that something wonderful might come of their friendship but when would they both realize it.
This is a story of forgiveness, hope, bullying, abuse, family sacrifices, loyalties, friendships, love and the willingness to understand that sometimes things happen for a reason and it’s often God’s plan. Sam is strong and withstands a lot of abuse and ridicule and the ending will bring tears to the reader’s eyes when Sam decides to go to Costa Rica in 1999 and working and helping Orbis hoping to help save sight throughout the world. Giving up his business but Mickie would not buy him out he turned it over to her. She instead agreed to move into his house and care for it. He went to the poorest areas in India and Asia and meets one child that he would never forget on his journeys. Lives change, images that are perceived are no longer looked at the same way and one man named Sam Hill/Hell after losing both parents just might realize that love is hiding in plain sight and another miracle is in store for him and someone else.
What is God’s Will? What is his plan? Learn the true meaning when you hear Madeline Hill explain how sometimes you have to push the answer in the right direction, listen to Sam stand up for himself when David Freeman wants to take him down as an adult and learn that good things happen when you believe in God and believe in yourself. Sam Hill might have been born with red eyes but his heart was filled with kindness, love, compassion and understanding for others. Differences are what makes each one of us unique and special just ask Sam about his Extraordinary Life as Sam Hell!
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine