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The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

BOTTOM LINE: Gorgeous, tragic, intense. This one is going to stick with me for a long, long time.

Genre: Literary Fiction; Psychological Suspense
Publication Date: 28 March 2017
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“Samuel Hawley isn’t like the other fathers in Olympus, Massachusetts. A loner who spent years living on the run, he raised his beloved daughter, Loo, on the road, moving from motel to motel, always watching his back. Now that Loo’s a teenager, Hawley wants only to give her a normal life. In his late wife’s hometown, he finds work as a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at the local high school.

Growing more and more curious about the mother she never knew, Loo begins to investigate. Soon, everywhere she turns, she encounters the mysteries of her parents’ lives before she was born. This hidden past is made all the more real by the twelve scars her father carries on his body. Each scar is from a bullet Hawley took over the course of his criminal career. Each is a memory: of another place on the map, another thrilling close call, another moment of love lost and found. As Loo uncovers a history that’s darker than she could have known, the demons of her father’s past spill over into the present—and together both Hawley and Loo must face a reckoning yet to come.”

My Thoughts: It is easy to consider The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley to be two separate novels, one being Hawley’s story and the other Loo’s; in fact, the publisher is marketing the novel as part coming-of-age and part thriller. That their stories unfold in alternating chapters only serves to highlight their separateness. Indeed, the tone of each chapter differs greatly. Hawley’s chapters are brimming with violence and cold calculation. Loo’s chapters are more innocent, filled with confusion and a general need to understand the world. However, to consider them as separate simplifies their stories and ignores what makes the novel so powerful.

Hawley may be a dangerous man with his own personal arsenal, but it is love that fuels him and dictates his actions. In each of his chapters, as he adds one bullet scar upon another, we see the man peeled back to his very essence. After the first time this happens, Hawley stops being a criminal with a penchant for guns and instead becomes a man with a shitty childhood who made some poor decisions and is now trying to make sure his daughter does not pay for those decisions. He is a father with an undying love for his child, one who would literally kill if it means protecting her. He is a husband still grieving for his beloved wife. He is so very human and and real that you forget he is fictional.

When we first meet Loo, it quickly becomes obvious that her childhood has been anything but ordinary. There is a feralness to her that has nothing to do with her nomadic upbringing. As she grows older, that animal ferocity lessens but never quite disappears. In many ways, this lurking wildness makes her more dangerous than Hawley as one never knows when she is going to lose that thin veneer of politeness and reveal her true self to her classmates or fellow townspeople. Yet, as with Hawley, her chapters reveal the reason for her viciousness, and her exposed vulnerability makes you want to protect her more than anything else. She is nothing more than a little girl who lost her mother at a young age and is trying to make sense out of the nontraditional world established by her father.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is ultimately a love story without any of the hallmarks of such. It is the story of a man’s love for his daughter, who is the one pure thing in his life. It is the story of a daughter’s love for her deceased mother as she tries to navigate her way through life without female guidance. It is the story of the same daughter’s complex love for her father, the man who raised and protected her and taught her to be self-sufficient but may have also been involved in her mother’s death. It is the story of first loves and last loves. There may be violence and gore among its pages, but love is the tie that binds Hawley and Loo together, and love is what will keep this book fresh in your mind and heart long after you finish reading it.

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