Book Review

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti


There are some novels that you hear a lot about months before they are due to be published.  The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, which will be published next month, is, for me, one such novel.  Needless to say, I was thrilled when I was approved to read this title via Netgalley.

Samuel Hawley and his daughter, Louise (Loo), have spent years travelling from place to place, never settling anywhere for too long.  But as Loo gets older, Samuel thinks that it would be good for her if they settled somewhere – somewhere she can make friends and focus on school – and on the cusp of Loo becoming a teenager, they settle in Olympus, Massachusetts – Loo’s mother’s hometown.

Samuel finds work and Loo attends the local school, but they are haunted by Samuel’s past, which he has spent a long time running from.  Loo knows little about it, but her father has twelve scars on his body, caused by bullets from various points in his criminal past – a past that might not be done with them yet.

The novel alternates between the present day and Sam’s past, and the reader experiences both Loo’s experiences as an outsider trying to settle in at a new school and gradually becoming a woman as well as learning about Sam’s past, one bullet at a time.  Because of this, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley contains two quite different narratives, and the reader gets to experience both a coming of age tale, although Loo’s coming of age is quite different to the norm, as well as something of a thriller as we learn more about Samuel and his background.  I really enjoyed both narratives, and I thought the way the two stories came together was brilliantly done.

Sam’s tale is dark, violent and occasionally humorous.  And yet while his past is somewhat unwholesome and anything but typical, I found him to be a likeable character, and I did sympathise with him.  This was for two reasons – his love for his wife, Lily (Loo’s mother), and daughter comes through very clearly in the novel:

For the first time he had something to lose, and it was funny how that changed things.

The second reason is that he doesn’t come across as being a violent man, unless a situation calls for it.  He will (and can) defend himself, but only uses violence when it’s necessary.  Sadly for him, this proved to be more often than not.

Loo, on the other hand, should be quite a different character, and yet you don’t live alone with a man like Samuel Hawley without picking up a few tips and tricks (which he is more than happy to share with her).  Eleven years old at the start of the novel, her life has been one of constantly moving around as Sam tries to prevent his past catching up with him, and this sets Loo apart from others of her own age, even when they settle in Massachusetts.  Becoming a victim of the school bullies, she reacts.  Violently.  And I have to admit that I loved her for it.

Over the course of the novel, the reader sees Loo develop into a young woman, with all the usual steps and phases that such a path takes, and it’s difficult not to pity her a little for living alone with a father, with whom a daughter might not always want to discuss certain things.  That said, I really liked the father / daughter relationship portrayed here, which, now that I think about it, isn’t all that common in fiction.  Despite his past, Sam is clearly trying to do his best for her, and will do whatever it takes to keep her safe, and I enjoyed the exploration of what it means to be a parent, but also the acknowledgement that we don’t always know people as much as we think – even those closest to us:

Even in the shadows she could see his scars.  The skin was different there.  Puckered and ghostly.  And now she knew the story behind one of those ghosts.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is a brilliantly entertaining novel that reads a little like a Quentin Tarantino film, with a bit of family drama thrown in for good measure.  It will be published on 6 April 2017 by Tinder Press.  Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a copy for review.

Rating: ★★★★☆


  1. This is coming up in my queue. After reading your great review I’m even more excited to get to it!

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