The Secret Life of Sam

Cover art by Brandon Dorman.

How far would you go to be with the people you love—even after they’re gone?

After Sam’s dad dies in a car accident, he’s shuttled off to the dusty town of Holler, Oklahoma to live with a long-lost aunt. He misses everything about his old life—fishing in the swamps, drinking warm cans of Orange Crush and, especially, listening to Pa weave his famous tall tales.

He hates everything about Holler, with its empty fields and dead grass, until he encounters a strangely familiar cat who leads him to a mysterious tree—a portal through which Sam can be with Pa once more.

Sam’s visits to the bayou become stranger and stranger. Pa’s old stories unfold around him in beautiful but sinister detail, and Pa is not quite himself. Still, Sam is desperate to find a way for them to stay together—until he learns the bittersweet lesson that sometimes loving someone means having to say goodbye.

Praise for The Secret Life of Sam

A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2020

⭐ “Ventrella brilliantly renders Sam’s gentle nature, defensiveness, and deep sadness; her evocative prose and the small but resonant cast shine, and Sam’s voice effectively relays his path toward the other side of grief.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

 ⭐ “The magic is rooted in evocative descriptions and strong emotions. Magically mesmerizing and moving.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“The heartrending story and vividly described settings will captivate readers.” —Horn Book Magazine

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Order your copy today from the retailer of your choice. My two favorite options are or my local indie, Best of Books. When you order from, a portion of your money goes to support me and independent bookstores everywhere. If you would like a signed and personalized copy, order from Best of Books. Make sure to put “signed copy” along with any personalization details in the order comments section.

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Book Clubs

Is your class or school book club reading The Secret Life of Sam? If so, I would love to join you for a 30-minute book club chat. If you’re interested, fill out the form below. And don’t forget to download the Book Club Guide.

In the News

🐊  Check out my interview with Jonathan Rosen about The Secret Life of Sam on The Mixed-Up Files blog.

🐊  Read the full review of The Secret Life of Sam from Publishers Weekly.