Hannah Tinti’s The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley reminds me of adventure books I read as a child, but is the modern-day, grown-up version of them. It’s exactly the kind of book I search for on bookshop shelves. Which probably explains why I loved it.
After years spent living on the run, Samuel Hawley moves with his teenage daughter Loo to Olympus, Massachusetts. There, in his late wife’s hometown, Hawley finds work as a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at school and grows curious about her mother’s mysterious death.
Haunting them both are twelve scars Hawley carries on his body, from twelve bullets in his criminal past – a past that eventually spills over into his daughter’s present, until together they must face a reckoning yet to come.
Yes, the sniggering British kid in me stumbled over Loo’s name initially, but it doesn’t take long to get used to it. She’s such a fiercely independent tomboy of an individual that the unusual moniker actually suits her. Besides, I didn’t want her to catch me giggling and use her rock-in-a-sock on me. (You’ll understand why, when you read the book.)
There’s so much I love about The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley: there’s the father-daughter relationship that’s central to the story, which changes from being self-sufficient when they’re on the road to still protective but prickly and no longer enough in Olympus. There’s the coastal setting of the town, with the inherent pressures and hardships of being reliant on the fishing industry amid mounting environmental concerns. There’s a life lived simply, with few possessions of value, all of which can be packed up at a moment’s notice. There’s that nomadic existence. There’s time spent outdoors, on bicycle and on foot, in a borrowed car, in woodland, on mudflats and cliffs, at the beach and out to sea. There are characters who don’t fit neatly into society’s expectations, but rage against them, flawed and full of life, and fight and passion. There’s realising what’s important in this life. There’s LOVE but there’s also loss. There’s friendship and family. There’s repulsion and attraction, tenderness and violence. There’s bullying and fighting, protesting and protecting. There are some mysteries for Loo (and the reader) to solve: her dead mother, and her very much alive, if singular, grandmother. There’s a young girl trying to figure out her present and what she wants for her future, while her father can’t shake off the past which is threatening to consume him and everything he loves. And there are twelve bullet wounds with a story behind each one. Read more