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REVIEW: 'Letters to Sam' teaches life lessons

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Published: Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 11:11

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‘LETTERS TO SAM’ is a compilation of letters written from a quadriplegic psychologist to his autistic grandson, offering perspectives and advice. Stock photo

If you’re looking for a tear-inducing read for the upcoming holiday break, “Letters to Sam” is the book for you. Author Daniel Gottlieb, a quadriplegic psychologist, learns his grandson has been born with autism, a developmental disorder that affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills. Due to Gottlieb’s physical condition, he feared he wouldn’t live long enough to share the life lessons he had always wanted to share with his grandchildren.


This book is a compilation of letters he wrote for Sam about life, trials and love. Gottlieb doesn’t sugar-coat the dark parts of life and the struggles his grandson will likely face living with such a disorder, but his advice and compassion also highlight the joys and purpose of living.


Gottlieb’s wisdom surpasses solely the relationship of grandfather and grandson and reaches a crucial space where all of humanity can relate to his wisdom. His trial was paralyses and Sam’s was autism, but every human can relate to battling some sort of adversity in their lives.


“Sometimes situations call for us to act strong and brave even when we don’t feel that way,” he wrote. “But those are few and far between. More often, the payoff is better if you don’t pretend you feel strong when you feel weak or pretend that you are brave when you’re scared.”


Gottlieb wrote he believed the world would be a safer place if everyone who felt vulnerable could wear it on their sleeve, noting they have a problem and are doing the best they can.


He also had a strong view I found touching. Though he has quadriplegia, he’s not a quadriplegic — and though Sam has autism, he is not autistic.


“Because of our labels, some people will be afraid to approach us. Others will be cautious about talking to us or trusting us,” he wrote. “We look different and act different. But we can also teach people, as Norma taught me, that no matter what happens to our bodies or our minds, our souls remain whole.”


Though I introduced this book as a tear jerker, it’s also an incredibly empowering read. I remember I read the book because of my shrink’s recommendation as I was dealing with some emotional healing and I recommended it to my grandmother after my step-grandpa passed away. The truth, as confirmed in this book, is that everyone suffers from pain. The obstacle is to overcome it healthily in the end.

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