________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 29 . . . . April 3, 2015


In Search of Sam.

Kristin Butcher.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn, 2015.
174 pp., trade pbk., EPUB & pdf, $12.99 (pbk.), $8.99 (EPUB), $12.99 (pdf).
ISBN 978-1-4597-2960-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4597-2962-9 (EPUB), ISBN 978-1-4597-2961-2 (pdf).

Grades 9-11 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Gillian Lapenskie.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


Kristin Butcher’s name will be familiar with anyone who’s a fan of the “Orca Currents” and “Orca Soundings” series. In Search of Sam is the sequel to Butcher’s novel Truths I Learned from Sam, but it functions as a stand-alone read. Truths I Learned from Sam deals with main character Dani’s short-lived relationship with Sam, the father she didn’t know she had; In Search of Sam picks up the story four months after Sam’s death from cancer.

     In the novel, Dani has just turned 18 and is already quite mature. From the start, I think many readers would find her sense of responsibility both refreshing and—given the way many teenagers actually are--realistic. Although her relationship with her mother is strained at times, she doesn’t really have to rebel against anything or anyone to figure out who she is; instead, she explores her identity through taking on the sobering, sometimes confusing, task of sorting through her father’s belongings and the clues she finds about his life. Having graduated a semester early from high school, Dani has the luxury of time to do some reflecting about her brief, but meaningful, relationship with her dad, the strong-but-silent rodeo cowboy who made a huge impact in her life despite only being a part of it for a short time.

     At the beginning of the novel, Dani travels from her home in Vancouver to Sam’s lawyer’s office in Kamloops to sign papers since he left his estate to her. It’s only four months since his death, and her feelings are still raw. Dani embarks on a physical and emotional journey as she visits the important places in her father’s life while traveling through her own landscape of grief.

Since I started this journey to find the missing pieces of my father’s life, I’ve learned a lot about Sam, the person, but nothing about his parents and the rest of his family.

The rest of my family. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s my family too. For seventeen years I knew who I was—at least who I thought I was, but I took my identity—my ancestry—for granted. It just was, like my hair colour and my shoe size…I need to know where I came from in order to understand who I am.

But it’s like peering into a black cave. I know there’s something in there, but all I see is darkness.

     Dani is discouraged when, after contacting and meeting several people who knew Sam, she still has no answers about who his mother was, and why he was given up for adoption. Eventually, the “clues” he left behind lead her to the small, run-down village of Farrow. Dani quickly integrates herself into the community where she meets a number of quirky characters. She stays at a bed and breakfast run by a woman by the name of George (Georgina) Washington, and she meets several artisans who are struggling to get by.

     Readers will be impressed and engaged by Dani’s resourcefulness and entrepreneurial spirit. She brings people together and creates opportunities for the community of Farrow, actions which, in turn, help take the edge of her grief. It all comes together very quickly, however. This gives the novel a rushed feel in places, particularly at the end. It almost feels like Butcher was constrained by a maximum page count because this talented writer of 23 books could certainly have done more to develop Farrow and the intriguing people who live there. I would recommend this slim novel to students who would appreciate a thoughtful read in which there might not be a lot of action, but the protagonist grows in interesting ways and develops unusual, sometimes unexpected, relationships with those she meets.

     I’ve taught countless students who lacked a father figure in their lives and many others who have established relationships with fathers who were absent for years. This novel would speak to them as well as to those who have lost a parent and are now struggling to understand who that person was. Butcher writes that she hopes readers will connect with Dani over these shared experiences as well as possibly being inspired into “making positive choices right along with Dani”.

     Another factor that makes this novel stand out is that--unlike many works of realistic teen fiction geared toward a female demographic--there’s no romantic element, and there doesn’t need to be. The romantic connection Dani had with Micah in the first Sam novel (Micah doesn’t appear in this novel) is completely over, explained away in a sentence or two. Like Truths I Learned About Sam, In Search of Sam is primarily a story about Dani and her dad. Even though he is no longer alive, his presence seems to linger as his story is told too. At the beginning of In Search of Sam, Dani says that “nothing less than a miracle” would help her get over her father’s death. It’s satisfying for the reader that there seem to be perseverance and coincidence—or, if you like, miracles--in equal measure when Dani finally finds the answers she’s looking for. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kristin Butcher isn’t done with this character yet; perhaps another Dani Lancaster novel is in the works.



Gillian Lapenskie is a teacher-librarian at Barrie Central Collegiate in Barrie, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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