A spinoff to Dustin Thao’s New York Times bestselling YA book “You’ve Reached Sam” has been set up at Penguin’s Dutton Children’s Books imprint in a seven-figure deal following a heated auction between multiple bidders.
A TikTok sensation, Thao’s debut novel “You’ve Reached Sam” centers on 17-year-old Julie following the death of her boyfriend Sam. When a heartbroken Julie calls Sam’s cellphone to listen to his voicemail, Sam miraculously picks up the phone and they begin an otherworldly relationship. Julie is then caught between staying connected to Sam and losing the living world around her.
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Tentatively titled “You’ve Found Oliver,” Thao’s follow-up novel is described as a standalone that takes place in the same universe “You’ve Reached Sam,” which was published in November 2021 by Macmillan’s Wednesday Books. Per its description, “The story takes place a year after Sam’s death. When his best friend Oliver accidentally calls him, someone else answers the phone. We learn Oliver has been texting Sam’s number to cope with his death, not realizing the number now belongs to someone else (who’s been reading everything). The two strangers eventually develop a connection and decide to meet up.”
Thao promises “more heartbreak and a magical twist” in “You’ve Found Oliver.”
“Oliver is a supporting character in the first book and he’s a fan-favorite and he’s also one of my favorites. And when the book was finished, and when it came out, in the back of my mind, I always knew that he deserved his own story,” Thao tells Variety. “When I sat down to work on it, and think about it, I knew that his story was just as original and heartbreaking as the first. And I knew it was something that I truly wanted to write and I knew publishers would be excited about and I knew fans would be excited, too. The story of Oliver was important because he’s the only character that didn’t get closure. He was left with a lot of questions, especially around the death of his best friend, Sam, and that was a story I really wanted to explore. So we do touch on flashbacks of Sam and their friendship and their story growing up together. And we do get a little bit of cameos from Julie, who’s the main character in the first, which I think fans would truly love to see. Oliver and Julie’s friendship was very special because it was formed out of a shared grief”
Thao’s agent Jenny Bent recalls the “highly exciting” seven-figure deal that Thao landed, just seven days after submission, telling Variety: “Dustin did a truly wonderful proposal and we sent it out and the interest started coming in very quickly. Then we got two pre-empts in the same day and held an impromptu auction for it the next day based on all the enthusiasm—with the exciting outcome of selling it to the incomparable Julie Strauss-Gabel at Dutton.”
“It was so wild and different from my first deal, which happened in 2019. So it’s been a long time,” Thao said, adding: “The offer didn’t feel real when it reached up to seven figures. I thought I was dreaming.”
“You’ve Found Oliver” is targeting a fall 2025 release with Dutton’s Julie Strauss-Gabel, publisher behind beloved YA books including “The Fault in Our Stars,” “Looking for Alaska,” “If I Stay” and “Anna and the French Kiss,” working as Thao’s editor on the new project.
“It’s a meaningful experience because I believe [Strauss-Gabel] has shaped the children’s book industry and she has printed so many young adult classics, books that have stood the test of time. It means so much that she believes Oliver’s story is going to be one of them,” Thao said.
While not among the authors that have had their books adapted into TV shows or film, Thao, who is repped by CAA’s Michelle Weiner, says “there are a few secrets at the moment” regarding a potential on-screen version of “You’ve Reached Sam.”
Thao is a Vietnamese-American writer based in New York City. He graduated from Amherst College with a bachelor’s degree in political science and he is currently in a PhD program at Northwestern University. Next up, Thao has his second novel, “When Haru Was Here,” releasing from Wednesday Books in September.
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