Special price $13.54 Regular price: $16.86
Publisher: Wednesday Books / Raincoast Books
Reviewer: Melissa on Sept. 5, 2018
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s raised her sister Mattie in an isolated, small town, trying to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water…at least to the best of her abilities. However, in Courtney Summers latest novel, Sadie, Mattie is found dead, and the older sibling’s entire world crumbles. After a poorly handled police investigation, Sadie hits the road following a few meagre clues to find Mattie’s killer. 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, starting a podcast that tracks his investigation of Sadie’s journey, while hoping to find her before it’s too late.
I went into Sadie knowing only that it was about a missing girl, featured some alternative media, and was written by Canadian author Courtney Summers, and frankly, that was enough for me. I’ve read several of Summers’ previous novels, and I liked them, especially All the Rage, which evoked anger in me unlike that of any novel before. Now, having read Sadie, I can honestly say that this is Summers’ best work to date. If you haven’t picked up her books yet, then now is definitely the time to get on the bandwagon.
Sadie is the kind of book that readers won’t soon forget. And in a world where study after study shows that readers of fiction increase their empathy, I happen to believe that this novel may even help readers understand a tiny portion of what the families of missing and possibly dead girls and women feel when there aren’t any answers forthcoming by law enforcement. While the novel takes place in a small US towns and the titular character is a white, lower class teen, I couldn’t help but recall the ongoing crisis of murdered and missing Indigenous girls and women in Canada, the country I share with the author, because just like the real life missing people, the police gave up on finding Sadie long before her “adopted” grandmother May Beth reached out to West McCray to investigate and report on this case. They said she was just a runaway and when the leads dried up, they didn’t consider her life as being worth their resources, didn’t consider whether the family’s need for closure had been fulfilled. In this way, just as All the Rage was an indictment of rape culture, Sadie is a powerful statement about the value we place (or don’t place) on young women, especially those so-called high-risk individuals. It’s an equally compelling indictment on the hypocrisy of the media’s decision about whether to report on or bury many of these stories under the rug, so that both those in control of the media and its viewers don’t have to think about what they might find when they really delve into it.
Beyond these important themes, what I appreciated most about this novel was the way Summers develops the character of Sadie herself. On the one hand, readers get an inside look into Sadie from many outsiders’ perspectives through West’s investigation and the interviews that he’s able to get on the record. Not every character who he interviews is sympathetic toward Sadie’s plight. Some are hoping that West finds her if only so they can press charges against her, while others speak about the fear that she instilled in them soon after meeting her. At the same time, there are other characters, like May Beth, who are generally quite sympathetic toward Sadie, and who present her in a positive light most of the time, but who round out her character with tales of her imperfections, such as her seemingly random hatred of her mom’s ex Keith. However, this story isn’t all them against Sadie. As in many of her previous novels, Sadie gets her own POV, and because of this authorial decision, a character who might be considered unlikable through the eyes of others was really sympathetic to me…even when some of her plans and decisions were misguided. Anyone who knows of Summers’ writing knows that she’s often accused of writing unlikable female protagonists. In fact, it’s such a common criticism of her work that Summers created a t-shirt that you can buy, which says “unlikable female protagonist.” However, I personally found that even though Sadie makes some poor decisions at times, I always identified with her. You see, in can you don’t know, Sadie basically raised her younger sister Mattie, so when the thirteen year old winds up dead on the edge of town, Sadie plans to track down and kill the man she believes is responsible. Because Sadie would do anything for Mattie. Maybe it’s because I have a little sister myself who I felt protective of as we were growing up, but I couldn’t help but think that a part of Sadie’s self-determined mission is greater than a simple case of revenge. Therefore, even though she was making decisions that I can’t picture myself making, I couldn’t help but think that Sadie was worth having people care enough about her to carry out a real investigation into her disappearance.
Beyond these themes and the main character, I want to highlight Summers’ superior writing style as well. While in many ways Sadie is a departure for this seasoned YA author – it’s a thriller when she usually writes straight contemporary YA; it incorporates the perspectives of multiple people through the interviews, not just a first person POV; and finally, much of the novel is written in script format – this doesn’t stop Summers from blowing it out of the park time and time again. Whether she’s using descriptive language to bring you into the exact setting, making beautiful use of parallel sentence structure to bring together the scripted and unscripted podcast format, revealing subtle details that will chill readers, or concluding chapters with more questions, making it impossible to put down, Summers proves that she can skillfully solve any narrative issue in a way that’s sure to hook the reader.
If you’re looking for something a little different from Courtney Summers that still manages to make her longtime fans happy, then you have to pick up Sadie…today. Seriously, this book should be one of the next ones on your TBR pile if you haven’t already gotten to it. Prediction: it may just be one of your favorite books of the year!
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One-Question Interview with Courtney Summers:
YA Book Shelf: Using a podcast transcript format in Sadie is a departure from the writing style of your previous novels. What other books inspired you to try your hand at using alternative mediums, and what aspects of this narrative will your existing fans recognize as being quintessentially Country Summers?
Courtney Summers: Though I do love and have read and enjoyed books that play with alternative mediums (The Illuminae Files, Night Film, The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone, to name a few), Sadie’s alternative medium, the podcast transcripts, was completely inspired by podcasts themselves. Serial had either ended or was just nearing its end, and its reception made me ask a lot of questions that I knew I could only explore in that way. It didn’t occur to me to approach the narrative traditionally at all. It was a script from the start. Sadie’s first person perspective is definitely something readers who have followed my work will feel right at home with–Sadie could easily be friends with Parker, Regina, Eddie, Sloane and Romy!