What’s it really like to work at the White House? That’s a question I’m sure a lot of us have asked ourselves, especially in these post-“The West Wing” days filled with one White House debacle after another. The portrayal of White House staffer life in Sammy's House by Kristen Gore is enough to make the book worth reading. It’s filled with enough glamour to make us envious, yet the long work hours, high levels of stress, and constant barrages of criticism make it believable. Gore does not go easy on her main character. Indeed, some of the drama in the book seems excessive at times, but these thoughts are soon rectified by Sammy’s (sometimes hilarious) responses to every new twist and turn in her position as a White House staffer.
In order to fully appreciate the White House life of Samantha (Sammy) Joyce, it is necessary to read Gore’s first novel, Sammy’s Hill. (Getting them confused? Think of it this way: Sammy’s Hill is the first novel, where Sammy worked on Capitol Hill. Sammy's House is the second novel, where Sammy works in the White House.) Though Gore does provide a general summary of events in Sammy’s Hill throughout the book, the first novel is definitely the place to start. It provides background for the quirkiness of Sammy’s character and explains many of her feelings and reactions throughout the second book.
Gore knows how to write fascinating characters. From Sammy’s boss, who is an introvert to the point of being disappointed when people say “hi” to him at social functions, to the White House guard who seems to hate Sammy for no reason, to Zelda, Sammy’s favorite telemarketer, Gore excels at creating endearing characters who are fun, quirky, and leave you wanting to know more about them.
At times, though, the strange qualities of Gore’s characters can become irksome. Thankfully, in Sammy's House, Gore significantly downplays Sammy’s quirks. Sammy is a hypochondriac who, in the first book, runs around with her arm in a sling because she wants to be prepared in case she loses her arm in a freak accident. While this is definitely amusing, Sammy’s hypochondria almost becomes a character of its own because it is taken to such an extreme. This hypochondria is still present in Sammy's House, as evidenced by Sammy’s conversations with the doctor, but it takes a backseat to the actual storyline.
I was thrilled to see the return of another one of Sammy’s quirks, the Japanese fighting fish. I found myself laughing out loud when Sammy would “arrange visits” between her fighting fish to keep them alive and healthy. Best of all, Sammy manages to keep that naiveté which makes her so endearing in the first book. She cares about the world and wants to make a difference. Everything else, including politics, is secondary. That does not mean that she doesn’t care about politics. Sammy’s boss, affectionately known as RG, counts on her more and more as the book progresses and the White House situation gets worse and worse, a testament to her character and durability. While Sammy does grow as a character and definitely has some hard realizations, she still keeps that endearing naïveté.
One of the main differences between Sammy’s Hill and Sammy's Houseis that in the first novel, I felt like I learned quite a bit about U.S. healthcare in general. While I loved Sammy's House, I didn’t come away with any real new knowledge about healthcare. The book operates mainly on a hypothetical, fiction base. Though it’s extremely entertaining, it fails to teach the reader any new information regarding the issues Sammy advocates.
So now, the million dollar question: Is this book chick lit? The answer: yes and no. In some ways, it is closer to chick lit than the first book, yet it still has elements which make me question its classification. While Charlie (Sammy’s boyfriend) plays a major part in the book, their relationship is not the main storyline. The book is not about finding love in life; it’s about making a difference in the world. As clichéd as that sounds, Sammy does manage to make a difference. Sammy's House is definitely worth savoring every last detail. I certainly hope that Kristen Gore decides to write another sequel - I’d love to see where Sammy Joyce ends up next!