Review: Sadie

Cover of Sadie by Courtney Summers showing a girl with long hair obscuring her face wearing a red sweaterAfter seeing Lost at Midnight’s post on Sadie, I added the book to my TBR list. It seemed relevant to current discussions about violence, and book club picked it for September, so it didn’t stay on my TBR list for long. I downloaded the audiobook and listened to it over the course of a week.

Summary

Sadie has lived a difficult life. With an absent mother, she’s been left to raise her sister Mattie and keep their little family afloat in a suffocating small town.

But when Mattie is murdered, everything Sadie has worked for falls apart. The police are no help, so Sadie decides to seek justice on her own. She sets out with a few meagre clues to find Mattie’s murderer.

Elsewhere, radio host Wes McCray is working on a segment about small towns when he’s approached by Sadie’s surrogate grandmother. She can’t take another dead girl and wants his help finding Sadie. Reluctant at first, he soon becomes obsessed with the clues Sadie leaves behind. He starts a podcast to record his efforts to follow her tracks in the hopes that he’ll find her before it’s too late.

Let’s get into it…

Sadie takes on a lot—violence against women, the role of media, prejudice—and it delivers. Courtney Summers has written a sobering tale of death, love, and the drive for justice. It’ll make you think not only about violence against women, but about your role as a consumer of media that speaks of this violence. With true crime having a moment right now, I think this is a valuable relationship to consider.

I, for one, have had the line “I can’t take another dead girl” stuck in my head since I finished the book. It’s a line that echoes through the novel, spoken first by Sadie’s surrogate grandmother and later by Wes. It speaks to the frequency of deaths, their normalization in a cruel world, and the helplessness we feel when confronted with this reality.

But Sadie refuses to be helpless. Sadie takes matters into her own hands and follows her gut. The desire for justice and revenge drives her, as does guilt over having let Mattie down. Her journey is one as much about love as it is about hate. Yet as much as I want Sadie to be a badass, Summers makes it clear that Sadie is incredibly vulnerable and she’s working in a system that has forced her into a role she shouldn’t have to be in. This makes for a lot of feels.

Wes, on the other hand, operates in a position of safety. Distance, time, and privilege (he’s a man and appears to be financially stable) separate him from Sadie’s situation. One might consider him an objective reporter, but he learns over the course of the novel that he has biases and gaps in understanding and that he’s been ignoring some of these for a long time. This is important character growth, but it doesn’t come with a reward, just awareness. As someone who’s been working on my own gaps, I think it’s important to show this kind of development. Having fictional characters recognize their flaws helps us recognize our own.

In addition to offering a lot of material for reflection, the twin narratives of Sadie and Wes are entertaining. Their stories piece together in interesting ways, even when the details are dark, and it’s easy to get absorbed in imagining how the events unfold. This makes reading go by fast, even when you don’t want to uncover the next dark details.

Often issues books end on a note of hope. Summers is careful with this, I think. Hope is helpful in keeping us motivated amidst the bad, but it can also make us forget there’s real work left to do. Sadie does not want us to forget about this work. And that’s partly what makes it such a memorable book.

Final thoughts: Sadie is a dark, captivating read that will make you think. I recommend it for fans of aggressive female protagonists and fans of crime fiction or true crime.

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