A book review by Lisa Arthursen
With so much going on in the world because of COVID-19, it might feel like the apocalypse truly is upon us. The world is scary and uncertain right now, which is why Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalyspe by Susan Vaught caught my attention. The brief cover synopsis for this Juvenile Mystery is what really sold me:
When the cops show up at Jesse’s house and arrest her dad, she figures out in a hurry that he’s the #1 suspect in the case of the missing library fund money. With the help of her (first and only) friend Springer, she investigates, but she can’t shake the feeling that she isn’t exactly cut out for being a crime-solving hero. Jesse isn’t neurotypical, which means that she’s “on the spectrum or whatever.” But when a tornado strikes, Springer, Jesse, and her Pomeranian, Sam-Sam, are given the opportunity to show what they’re really made of.
I was not disappointed. Vaught’s writing style is fun and engaging. The book is written in Jesse’s point of view, and it really delves into how he processes the world around her. Since Jesse has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), things that make sense to neurotypical people don’t make sense to her, and she is often bullied for it. Still, Jesse remains strong and does her best—even in the face of her own self-doubt (she’s not afraid to fight back against her bullies and is determined to see everything she starts through, especially when it comes to saving her dad). She wants to be like her mom, an Army servicewoman who sniffs out bombs with her dog Shotgun; likewise, Jesse keeps trying to train her dear, tiny Sam-Sam to sniff out bacon-rubbed tennis balls hidden in plastic containers so he can become a bomb-sniffer someday. Unfortunately, sniffing out plastic containers isn’t Sam-Sam’s strong point, just like understanding the “unspoken rules” of society aren’t Jesse’s. Still, she is incredibly observant and smart, which is what makes her investigating throughout the book so engaging; her perspective and watching how she pieces together clues may have you on the edge of your seat as you try to solve the mystery with her! Her deep love for her family (especially little Sam-Sam) is also very moving, especially since a lot of us can relate.
Jesse is a very endearing character, and Vaught really puts into perspective how neurodivergent people think, especially since Vaught herself is neurodivergent. Jesse is humorous, and you get a clear perspective of what she’s thinking when her body automatically starts to have a “meltdown.” The empathy and depth Vaught emphasizes in Jesse’s friendship with Springer adds heartfelt warmth to the story, because even though they handle situations differently, they work great as a team and are always supportive of one another. This is incredibly important, especially when they’re both being bullied by “Jerkface and his cockroaches.” Though the bullies are detestable and you really root for Jesse when she “hits back,” Vaught establishes them as 3D characters and emphasizes that people are complicated, and that most people don’t fall into a “good guys vs. bad guys” category. Still, when the bullies chase Jesse and Springer, Vaught does a wonderful job building up the suspense and putting you on the edge of her seat. Not gonna lie, I got light-headed a couple times from the adrenaline rush; I was that absorbed into the story!
Most importantly of all, however, is that the book really emphasizes that anyone can be a hero. Jesse, Springer, and Sam-Sam don’t fit the typical definition of what one might consider a hero, but by putting together all of their various talents, Vaught has created a dynamic team of unstoppable will. In the end, the book is about looking after each other—even bullies, strangers, and questionable adults, especially when “the apocalypse” strikes your community. Honestly, there’s a bunch I can talk about when it comes to Me and Sam-Sam, but I won’t waste more time than necessary—you should just read it and experience it yourself!