Monday 21 January 2019

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Review: Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie by Courtney Summers

Published: 4th September 2018 | Publisher: Wednesday Books | Source: Bought
Courtney Summers' Website

A missing girl on a journey of revenge. A Serial―like podcast following the clues she's left behind. And an ending you won't be able to stop talking about.

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 meager 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.

Courtney Summers has written the breakout book of her career. Sadie is propulsive and harrowing and will keep you riveted until the last page.
From Goodreads.

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Trigger Warning: This book features child murder, child abuse/paedophilia, child neglect, attempted sexual assault, alcoholism and drug addiction.

When I read about Sadie by Courtney Summers for the first time, I really liked the sound of it. A girl who goes missing, looking for her little sister's murderer, and the podcast TV host who is trying to find her. But the blurb only gives us so much. There's so much more going on with this story. It's horrifying and unbelievably heartbreaking, but an absolutely incredible story.

It's October. Radio host West McCray gets a phone call from Mary Beth Foster. She tells him that her surrogate granddaughter, Sadie, has gone missing. A year ago to the day, Sadie's little sister, Mattie's body was found: she had been murdered. West remembers hearing about it on the radio in a small town he had been featuring on his show, but he just dismissed it. Sadie went missing four months ago, in June. Three months ago, an abandoned car was found with her belongings, but no clues as to her whereabouts. The police investigation has stalled, and so Mary Beth wants West McCray's help in trying to find Sadie.
It's June. Sadie has bought a car, and is going on the most messed up road trip. Nine months ago, her 13-year-old sister Mattie was murdered. Mattie was Sadie's whole world, and she's barely been able to cope since. She thinks she knows who did it - someone from their past - and she's going to find him and make him pay.

'I'm going to kill a man.
I'm going to steal the light from his eyes. I want to watch it go out. You aren't supposed to answer violence with more violence but sometimes I think violence is the only answer. It's no less than he did to Mattie, so it's no less than he deserves.' (p43)

Told in mostly alternating chapters of podcast episodes and Sadie's narrative, Sadie is an incredibly difficult book to read. Even before Mattie's murder, their lives weren't easy. Their mum, Claire, is an alcoholic and drug addict, who cared more about her next fix than her children. It's been pretty much Sadie, with help from Mary Beth, who has brought up Mattie, even more so since Claire left them four years ago. She had to drop out of high school in order to work just to keep themselves fed and a rood over their head, but even then they struggled. Having felt unloved by her mum, when Mattie came along, she became Sadie's world. Despite how Sadie feels and how she's been treated by Claire, so Mattie's life is a little better, she has always told her that their mum is sick, always talked their mum up to her. And Claire always favoured Mattie, and took her side in everything. Mattie worshipped the ground Claire walked on, Sadie just wanted Mattie to be happy. When Claire leaves without a word, Mattie is broken. Until there's a postcard from Claire that says she's in LA. Then all Mattie wants is to go find her. But that's not something they can or should do, so Sadie won't allow it. Then Mattie goes missing. Three days later her body is found. And the only thing that keeps Sadie going is finding who did it and killing them.

I loved the way the story was told. At first, I felt quite uncomfortable with the whole podcast thing. With his skills as an investigative journalist, West McCray could help to find Sadie. But for it all to be recorded and shared for entertainment? I like watching TV shows that are similar to the podcast, but they're always years, decades, after the disappearance or the murder, or whatever it is they're focusing on. Sadie's disappearance is current, she is missing right now, and it just felt wrong to me that they were using her story for entertainment - even though at the beginning, West couldn't want to do anything less. But as the story goes on, it's less about entertainment and more about telling Sadie's story. This is who Sadie is, this was her life, this girl who loved her little sister so much, this girl who has gone missing. As West says at the beginning, we hear about girls going missing all the time. It's just another missing girl. But we don't really know anything about them, and we don't think about them. With The Girls podcast, the listeners get to know Sadie, they get to know her background, her relationship with her sister, her mother, her grief when her sister died. They get to care about this missing girl. She's not just another missing girl, she's not just another statistic. She's a real person, and she needs to be found. And you can't help - the fictional listeners of this podcast, I'm sure, as well as the real readers of this book - think about all the other lost girls, lost people who who have disappeared without a trace. What's happened to them? What are they going through? Are they even alive? Sadie's fictional story shines a light on the real, unknown stories of the missing.

What I also found interesting about the podcast is that whatever's happened to Sadie has already happened. Mary Beth got in touch with West three months after the car was found, abandoned. Four months after Sadie went missing. All eight episodes of the podcast, the whole thing, is available to listen to now. The end of the podcast has been recorded already, at the very beginning. Whatever has happened, has happened: whatever happened to Sadie has happened; whether West managed to find Sadie or not, it's happened. This makes reading Sadie's narrative hard, especially as you get nearer the end. You know the whole way through that her car was found abandoned, with all her belongings. So what happened to her? Where is she now? What led to her abandoning her car and all she owned? These questions are flying through your head as you're reading Sadie's narrative, following on her journey that takes her from one person to another, trying to find the man who hurt her, the man she believes killed her little sister.

Having the story told this way - through Sadie's narrative and the podcast - we get to see and understand things we wouldn't have with just one or the other. Perspective is a funny thing. We see Sadie's interactions with people, then we see those same people tell West about those interactions. We, the reader, know what happened, and being inside Sadie's head, we know what she meant and how she was feeling, and all that was going on with her. The people West interviews have their own takes. They see Sadie so differently, or they remember things differently, or they outright lie. Their thoughts and feelings about her are so different from our - the readers' - own, because we're in her head, we have her POV narration, we know more than they do. That, in it's way, is it's own kind of heartbreaking. Not everyone sees Sadie, they see a girl who is trouble.

But it works the other way round, too. Sadie has her own perspective of people, things she thinks and believes about them, but through the podcast we learn a different story. There is one out of so many different characters that I hated - other than Mattie's murderer - for most of the story, until they get to use their voice on the podcast and tell their story. Sadie sees what she sees, she reacts how she reacts, and she has been influenced by others, leading to an idea about who someone is. And she never realises that she could be wrong. I get to find out I was wrong. But how different things could have been, had she only known?

I've barely scratched the surface, and I haven't really talked about what happens during Sadie's narration. That's because you really need to read it. Her story is as excruciating as it is chilling. It made me feel sick. And that's the beauty of Summers' writing; she gives you the smallest details, and allows you to paint your own picture. There's no graphic or gratuitous descriptions of horrific things. She gives you just enough to let you know what happened, or what's been discovered, and that really is all you need. Because you know. You don't need to "see", you just need to know. And knowing is more than enough to terrify, disgust and break your heart.

I found myself feeling genuinely terrified for Sadie the closer the story got to the end. As I said earlier, what's happened has happened. There's no hiding from that. But I don't think I want to know, I kept thinking. The sense of dread I felt just got worse and worse, and I kept putting the book down, because I just couldn't. But even with the podcast, you have no idea what is actually going to happen until it's right upon you. So the fear and the dread were real, and I just really, really struggled the closer and closer I got to the end, the closer and closer Sadie got to finding her sister's murderer.

Before I start to wrap this up, there are two other things I want to talk about. Sadie had a stutter. A bad one, that affected almost every word she spoke, unless she was alone. This affected the way people saw her, and how she saw herself. People either thought she was drunk or stupid, or they felt sorry for her and pitied her. Her stutter isn't necessarily important to the overall story, but it was important to the person that was Sadie, how she moved through the world, how she tried to make herself heard and understood, how she navigated a world that treated her differently because of it. I myself have a stutter, and while it's nowhere near as bad as Sadie's, and so hasn't ever effected how I'm treated or how I feel about myself, I use some of the tricks Sadie uses herself - like, when I can't get past a certain word, I think of another way of saying what I want to say, using different words altogether, to actually get the words out. It felt very realistic to me, and very well done, but I'd also suggest reading reviews by people with more severe stutters.

Summers did something in Sadie that I have only ever seen maybe once or twice before. She goes against the white default. Whenever a new character is introduced, Sadie and West always mention their skin colour - including white characters. Normally, a white character being white isn't mentioned, because it is expected, it is the default. People of colour's skin colour or race is always mentioned, but white people you know by their hair or eye colour, or you know simply because you're not told otherwise. But in Sadie, every single character's skin colour is mentioned, which is just awesome. In this book, white isn't the default.

But back to the story now. The ending was unbelievable, but it was, I think, also the best ending. If it had ended any other way, I don't think it would have worked as well. But it hit me like a punch in the gut. Sadie is outstanding, a masterpiece, absolutely stunning, and it deserves to win all the awards. And I want a TV show. That has to happen. I wasn't ok when I finished Sadie. I'm still not ok. It broke me, and I honestly don't know how I'm ever going to get over this book. How I'm ever going to get over what happened to Mattie, what happened to Sadie, or that ending. This book left me in a complete mess, but in the best possible way.

I can't recommend this book enough. I implore you to read it, because it's so bloody important. Sadie might be a fictional character, but there are girls just like her, girls who have experienced what she has, girls who are missing, and it's for them that we should read this story and face the realities of what could be their lives. Since finishing, I haven't stopped thinking about Sadie, and what happened to her. Having loved both Sadie, and Summers' previous novel, All the Rage, I've now bought all of Summers' backlist titles. Summers' writing is too good to miss out on.

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  1. Oh I absolutely loved this one too...and it WRECKED ME. It was so emotional and powerful, and absolutely brutal with the themes and how honest it was about missing kids and sexual assault. 😭😭I mean it made me so so sad, but it also felt like a really important story to be told. That ending though afjdkslad. I am not over it.

    1. RIGHT?! Oh my god, I love it! Just such an engrossing but hard-hitting stopy. I couldn't put it down. And I still can't stop thinking about it. That ending, Cait! SUCH an incredible book!