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Review: The 12 Lives of Samuel Hawley

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

3/5 stars

Tinti's The Good Thief was the first book that my book club read in 2012 - we were even inspired by the title to name ourselves The Book Thieves - so I was quite excited to learn that she had a new novel out (somehow I missed it when it came out 5 years ago).

Loo Hawley is 12 years old when the novel begins, and living with her father Samuel (referred to as Hawley). In alternating chapters, we follow them as they move from place to place, state to state - seemingly on the run, but from what we don't know. Packing up is always last minute, and they take only the essentials - toothbrushes, the shrine of items always set up in the bathroom as an ode to Loo's late mother, and Hawley's many, many guns. The other chapters tell the story of Hawley's shady past, and the scars on his body - Bullet Number One, Bullet Number Two... one bullet for each scar. Twelve bullets, 12 lives, 12 stories, none of which Loo knows.

Loo has anger management issues, and a fear of making genuine connections with anyone other than her father. Recognizing this, Hawley makes the decision to settle down in the town Loo's mother/Hawley's wife grew up in. Loo finally begins to experience a more normal childhood, making friends, getting a job, and forming a relationship with her maternal grandmother. But things unravel when an old friend of Hawley's shows up, and Loo begins to uncover the truth about both of her parents, and how her mother really died.

Tinti is a talented storyteller, especially when it comes to lovable bad guys and the grey areas where their relationships reside. The more we learn about Hawley's past, the more we learn that he isn't really a good man. But he loves his daughter, and will do anything to protect her. Hawley and Loo have a close bond and a special friendship, but he's not always the best father, role model, or teacher for her. He is paranoid and often reckless, raising a tenacious but troubled teenager. But ultimately, Tinti instills enough heart into her writing to make them both sympathetic and relatable.

I found Hawley's bullet chapters less engaging than Loo's present-day story, in part because those chapters started to feel repetitive and long-winded. The stories of each bullet wound weren't dramatically different, and it was frustrating to see him make the same mistakes over and over. Eventually I just couldn't stop thinking, "When you get shot that many times, maybe rethink the whole 'life of crime' gig!"

To conclude, I'll share a short passage I really liked, where Loo is reflecting on all the places she's lived, while gazing at the stars and planets:

On Jupiter, Loo would weigh 283.6 pounds, while on Pluto she would weigh only 8. On Mercury she'd pull a respectable 45.3, but if she ventured to a white dwarf star, her body would balloon to 156 million pounds. Changing where you were could change how much you mattered.


UP NEXT: Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue

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