The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester by Maya McGregor


The Many Half Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester by Maya McGregor. AstraYoung Readers, 2022. 9781635923599

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3.5

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Mystery

What did you like about the book? After experiencing a hate crime that nearly killed them, Sam, a white nonbinary autistic 18-year old, moves to the small town of Astoria, Oregon. Dubious over their new home and its residents, Sam spends time investigating half-lived lives, the stories of kids who died before nineteen, because they are convinced that their end might be coming soon. It turns out Astoria isn’t as bad as Sam imagined as they meet other queer kids like Shep, a bisexual Latina who quickly becomes Sam’s closet friend and possible love interest. Both are especially intrigued by the case of Billy Clement, a kid who died suspisiously in Sam’s new house thirty years ago. As the two dig up clues, they start receiving threatening notes, indicating a possible murder on their hands, and Sam’s memories of the past begin to haunt them, revealing secrets from both the past and the present. In this suspenseful mystery story, Sam must solve the mystery of a 30-year old death before the murderer acts, all while battling their own internal demons. 

The diversity of the characters is impressive. Almost all characters are on the LGTBQA+ spectrum. Sam is a nonbinary and autistic, and so is the author Maya McGregor. Shep is a bisexual, brown-skinned Latina with an amusing character. Sam’s adoptive father, a black and aromatic/asexual man, is a wonderful father figure and one of the best characters. Even all the side characters are unique in their diversity, making the cast enjoyable and fun to read. 

Anything you didn’t like about it? To be blunt, the book is rather dull in spots for two reasons. First, there’s several low-stakes scenes with little action that don’t advance the story. Editing would have made for a better paced story. Second, the actual mystery wasn’t that thrilling, and (for me) it became predictable. Again, many scenarios felt low-stakes, with the narrative going in circles, and not moving forward until the end. It did not make for an engaging read. However, I would still recommend the book because there are so few YA books written with nonbinary and/or  autistic protagonists by nonbinary and/or autistic protagonists. 

To whom would you recommend this book? People who want nonbinary and/or autistic protagonists, who want a diverse cast of characters, who want books with good representation that is not necessarily about the representation itself. There isn’t another book really like this (I don’t think), so check it out if you want something new. 

Who should buy this book? High schools and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Teen fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Laila Carter, Cheltenham Township Library System, PA

Date of review: September 25, 2022

This entry was posted in *Book Review, *Young Adult, Autism, LGBTQIA+, Maya McGregor, Mystery and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.