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Book Review: Sadie by Courtney Summers

sadie

As a librarian and reader I’m often asked if I were to recommend the one book that everyone should read, what book would it be? The truth is, this is an impossible question because there is never just one book everyone should read because one book can’t touch on all of the things that we need to be reading about, thinking about, or talking about. But in the year 2018, one of the issues that we should be talking about and, thankfully, are is the female experience in our culture. The #metoo movement has asked us all to really take a moment and consider what it means to be female and what our experiences are like and the book Sadie is a perfect springboard wrapped in a genuine crossover thriller that helps us take the leap into these conversations.

To be clear, Courtney Summers has never shied away from talking openly, frankly, realistically and with no holds barred about what it means to be female. I sincerely believe that one day when this time frame is considered history and high school and college classes are asked to dissect the great feminist literature of our time period, Courtney Summers will be one of the authors on those syllabi. She will have earned that place rightfully. If you aren’t reading Courtney Summers and don’t have her titles on your shelves, you are doing an extreme disservice to today’s readers and thinkers and to the female experience. I recommend This is Not a Test, an exploration of depression and suicidal tendencies in a zombie infested world, and All the Rage, an exploration of rape culture, privelege and poverty if you need a place to begin.

Sadie blends contemporary interest in podcasts with the mystery/thriller genre and explores what it means to be female from two competing points of view. On the one hand, we see the main character, Sadie, trying to right the wrongs done to her and her family by men. It’s a revenge fantasy road trip that highlights the long term effects of childhood trauma in explosive ways. On the other, we see an adult male journalist who is forced to grapple with a truth his privilege has allowed him to ignore about men, abuse, and women. He starts on this journey being asked to please find out what happened to Sadie, and in the process he is forced to realize what happens to far too many of our young girls. This is a genuine crossover novel in that it is told from both a teen and an adult perspective, and both voices are necessary and moving in the telling of this tale. Both voices are knit together with a superb craftsmanship that explodes in profound insight and heartbreaking truths. No one walks away from this story the same as when they began it, which I think readers will find true for them as well. You will be changed by the pages of this book.

If you are familiar with previous works by Courtney Summers, you will not be surprised to learn that this contains some very real talk about sexual violence and abuse. And if you are the survivor of sexual violence, you will recognize so many of the small moments, the tells, in this story that are used to slowly build a picture of what it is life to live with the daily fear and aftermath of sexual violence. You will recognize the men and the ways in which they act. You will recognize the girls and the ways in which they act. And your heart will break at the raw, honest truth. It does have the very real potential to be triggering for some, so survivors may want to practice self care while reading.

Earlier this year, I spoke at length about the book The Fall of Innocence by Jenny Torres Sanchez and how important that book was in how it portrayed the long term effects of childhood trauma. Sadie does this as well, and quite successfully. Together, these two books remind us all that we are living with and among generations of youth and adults who have been forever altered by the actions of others and the trauma it has produced in their lives. I believe that moving forward this is the number one issues that we should all be discussing regarding our physical and mental health and things like success in education and the opioid crisis. I believe that the long term effects of childhood trauma and mental health is a profound and neglected issue that our society needs to begin addressing. We should be testifying before congress, demanding better laws to help punish perpetrators and protect future victims, and demanding better mental health care and coverage. Together, these two books help us to understand better the very real long term effects of childhood trauma. We need these books and more like them to help us address this issue.

Sadie also spends a lot of time discussing what it means to be female in general: the trials, the tribulations, the objectification and sexualization, the profound bias and confusion and anger and fear. We see it a lot in Sadie’s story, but we also see it in the eventual awakening of West McCray. West is a man of privilege who must eventually come to understand an experience outside of his own; his eyes are opened and this journey is important. In the midst of the #metoo movement many men are asking, what is my part in all of this and what is it I should do? Some men respond that they care about the issue because they are husbands or fathers or sons, which is a bad response because it means they only care about the basic humanity of women because of the women they love. What we need is a huge cultural shift that recognizes the fundamental humanity of and equality of women. We need men to care about women’s issues not because it might effect the women they love, but because it effects their fellow human beings. Women’s health and safety matter because they are human, not because of who loves them or wants to claim them. West McCray is forced to take that journey and wrestle with these issues by diving into the mystery of what happened to Sadie.

From a craftsmanship point of view, Summers writing is taut and precise and profound. The structure of the story works incredibly well in slowly revealing all of the details and knitting the two narratives together. And the additional layer of the podcast was the perfect creative choice, especially in our current times where podcasts are so popular. You can even listen to the podcasts, which is a brilliant marketing strategy: Introducing “The Girls” Podcast | Macmillan Library.

I can’t tell you that this is the one book you should read this year, because I think you should read many. I think you should read a lot of books that cover a lot of topics and make you think about a lot of things. But I can tell you that I think hands down this should be one of the books you read this year. I believe it will justifiably be a bestseller. It will be a great discuss group book. It will entertain, thrill, anger, upset and move readers. It has the potential to become a classic of our times. In short, I highly recommend this book.

Publisher’s Book Description:

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meagre clues to find him.

When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

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