Rated Reads

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

by Hannah Tinti

Rated: High

After years of being on the run, living in motels or rentals in town after town with his young daughter, Loo, Samuel Hawley finally decides to settle somewhere — Olympus, Massachusetts. It’s his late wife’s hometown, where her mother still lives. He buys a house, she goes to school, he brings in seafood every day to eat and to sell. But his criminal past still haunts them. His body bears the scars of 12 bullets. His heart still grieves the loss of the woman who broke it open enough for him to love, to feel something. He carries around mementos of her, carefully preserving them through each move. And he fiercely protects Loo, who’s all he has.

Loo, for her part, only knows her father. She knows what they have. She doesn’t fit in even as they stay a while in Olympus. She isn’t eager to get to know her grandmother, and the few interactions they have for some time are prickly. Living a settled life that takes in people other than her father isn’t comfortable.

But Loo finds herself turning to her grandmother and even, hesitatingly, awkwardly, letting a boy into her life. And she finds a few reasons to question some of what she knows about her father, and what happened to her mother so long ago.

As this book plays out, the story of each of Hawley’s scars is revealed. These flashbacks go back and forth between the present, or at least the five years or so of Loo’s coming of age in Olympus. Hawley’s story unfolds, revealing the flaws of a man who has done much that’s wrong. But his story also shows his need to protect his heart and the one remaining good thing in his life: his daughter. And he’ll go to any lengths he must to do right by her, to keep her safe.

Loo grows up and slowly learns more about herself, about her mother and grandmother, and about what ties her to her father.

On some levels, I didn’t care too much about Hawley because his life was so much about just carrying out the “jobs” he signed up for, going from crime to crime. But as his life is revealed, chapter by chapter, the love that he shares for just a short time with his wife, and then his fierce protection of his daughter, makes him the hero of the story — a very flawed hero, but one who’s human, who carries off the tale. The relationship he has with his daughter, who by reason of her upbringing is pretty flawed herself, is still moving. They are a team against the world. They are a family unit. And they have more power than they know.

As I pondered the story and took the time to read the Q&A with the author after the book ended, I came to appreciate more Tinti’s mastery of her craft, the symbolism of the 12 bullets survived, the structure of the book. I don’t think I loved the book, but I really appreciated it. Kudos to Tinti.

Rated: High, for 15 to 20 uses of strong language, along with more moderate language use; there is sexual content but it’s not graphic or detailed. There is a fair amount of violence and plenty of graphic description of the wounds incurred by both Hawley and those he injures or kills in turn.

* I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for about 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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  • The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
  • by Hannah Tinti
  • Rated: High
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: