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Truths I Learned from Sam

by Kristin Butcher

The narrator and emotional core of veteran author Kristin Butcher’s new novel is Dani, a likeable, well-adjusted teen who seems to take most things in stride. On the brink of 18, Dani is mature enough to be philosophical and non-judgmental about the upheavals in her life: her mother’s five marriages, her father’s absence, and an impending trip to Cariboo country to stay with Sam, an uncle she didn’t know existed.

Though Dani is not happy about leaving Vancouver for the wilderness, there are no frantic texts to friends on the bus ride there, or when she finds herself in a dilapidated trailer in the middle of nowhere. In fact, within a short time, Dani embraces her situation and encounters nothing but friendly locals and a “drop-dead gorgeous” cowboy.

This unlikely scenario aside, Dani’s first-person narrative evinces a certain honesty and immediacy that teen readers will appreciate. Moreover, vivid descriptions of the spectacular B.C. landscape, the adrenaline rush of the rodeo, and a burgeoning romance lend significant colour and atmosphere to the story.

The heart of the novel is Dani’s relationship with Sam. Butcher handles the pair’s growing bond gently and convincingly, while showing compassion and understanding for her teenage protagonist. However, she drops numerous hints about Sam’s undisclosed illness and true identity, so the revelations, when they come, are more expected than shocking.

Dani’s intense response to Sam’s illness also seems contrived, given that she’s only known him for a month. She feels she is “standing on the edge of an emotional abyss,” and as though “a tsunami [is] trying to drown me – or rip me apart…. I don’t care if I survive it.”

Perhaps the novel suffers from having to pack its emotional punch within a limited page count. There is certainly an impression that more could be explored within this tender story.