I’d been hearing a lot of buzz about this new YA release from Courtney Summers long before it was listed as a Goodreads Choice Awards nominee, and for good reason. I picked up Sadie in early October, about a month after it came out. It was my first Summers novel, and I doubt it will be my last. I’ve been unusually interested in YA books that deal with heavy topics this year, like death, abuse, and rape. I haven’t read all of the titles that I’ve wanted to yet, but I think it’s important for teens to know about the scary topics, for the dark parts of the world to be as represented in YA literature as the bright parts. Awareness is important. At least, that’s my stance.
About the book: Sadie and Mattie’s mom wasn’t much help to her daughters before she skipped town, but Mattie loved her anyway and is heartbroken by the abandonment. She fights seventeen year-old Sadie’s attempts to care for her after their mom leaves. Mattie tries to take off to rejoin their mother, leaving Sadie devastated when news of Mattie’s death reaches her shortly after. Though Mattie was difficult, all Sadie wanted was to make sure Mattie had a good, fair life, and Mattie’s murder leaves one thing on Sadie’s mind: revenge. News of Sadie’s disappearance makes interesting fodder for a podcast series as one man tries to follow the scant trail Sadie left behind, hoping to solve the mystery and receive some help from the listening public before Sadie meets the same fate as her sister.
“Every little thing about you can be a weapon, if you’re clever enough.”
This book alternates between traditional chapters in Sadie’s perspective, and chapters formatted as podcast episodes as her case is investigated after her disappearance. The podcast format has its ups and downs. The break from traditional narrative is an intriguing vote in the book’s favor, even for readers who pick up a physical copy (like me) instead of the audiobook (which I hear is really good). The format does mean that there are those little informational headers at the start of new sections including dates and names of speakers that are so easy to skip over visually, but I think that as with many unusual formats, this one will come down to personal preference rather than a flat consensus.
Some downsides to the podcast format: we’re only getting the part of the story that these characters are willing to say out loud, for strangers to hear. Sadie’s chapters are the exception, but the podcast chapters are entirely composed of monologues and dialogues, which reveals the usual barrier between what people think and what they say, as we only get the speaking portions. There are things we never know about people who don’t speak in the podcast, or who don’t speak truthfully. The killer never has a voice, which I think is a good message to send, though it does leave unanswered questions about some of his motives and logistics. The reader never knows for sure why the killer was in town that day, why he might have risked his current family situation for Mattie when he hadn’t bothered with her before, or even how he could’ve gotten away with her murder so easily.
But those aren’t the only curiosities Summers leaves to the reader: Sadie’s ending is also left ambiguous, with two major possibilities for the reader to choose from. It’s the sort of ending that might leave a lot of readers disappointed with the lack of closure, though Summers’s refusal to tie up loose ends sends a strong message about real cases of missing girls, and perpetuates the life-is-dark-and-messy sentiment that Sadie dredges up throughout the novel. I appreciated Sadie’s ending in this story a lot more than the nagging questions about the killer.
“It was a terrible thing, sure, but we live in a world that has no shortage of terrible things. You can’t stop for all of them.”
Another downside to the podcast format is that there are places where the narrative feels a bit forced, including dialogue that doesn’t seem entirely realistic in order to provide information to the reader that the narrative has left no other way to deliver. There are some places where West (the main voice of the podcast) must ruminate aloud, and conversations between West and his boss that seem planted only to convey emotion and motive that could best be shown through actions or thoughts.
On another note, I love that Sadie has a stutter. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that represented in a respectful way in any other book. Such a defining characteristic makes Sadie feel real enough to exist outside the pages of a fiction novel, which is important for a contemporary book meant to raise awareness of real world problems.
“I can’t describe how bad it feels, this inability to communicate the way I want, when I need to.”
My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I thought this was an intelligent YA book with important messages for readers of all ages (some of the content is a bit mature and may be upsetting for younger readers, but I do think it’s all presented in an appropriate way). I didn’t completely jive with the writing style, but I did like the book enough that I’ll give Courtney Summers another try. I’m thinking of trying All the Rage next, but I’m open to suggestions if you have any!
- Mindy McGinnis’s The Female of the Species for another teenage girl who’s out to stop an adult male abuser, as well as a town full of teens who learn more about rape than they bargained for and decide not to allow it. It’s a book of strength.
Have you read Sadie, or other books by Courtney Summers? What did you think?
The Literary Elephant