December 28, 2018


Written by Courtney Summers
Wednesday Books
308 pp.
Ages 14+
September 2018

If you notice that the book cover is larger than I usually post, it's because Sadie, the book and the girl, should not be relegated to the back or to a corner to be forgotten. In her life, Sadie was neglected and abused and she may have felt insignificant, but she is courageous and responsible, and she deserves to be noticed–and not because of her stuttering–and her extraordinary efforts appreciated.

Sadie begins with the murder of Sadie's thirteen-year-old sister, Mattie Southern, after she'd left their home in Cold Creek, Colorado, ostensibly to search out their mother Claire, who'd left 3 years earlier. Mattie had never given up hope on her mother, an addict who'd showered her meagre love and limited attention on her youngest daughter and essentially ignored or was hostile to her eldest.
I can't even put into words what it's like to swallow down a moment like that, but I can tell you exactly how bitter it tastes. (pg. 55-6)
Sadie had given all of herself to her baby sister and mothered Mattie even more, when at 16, it was just the two of them, abandoned and living in a trailer park run by their surrogate grandmother, May Beth Foster.  When Sadie disappears eight months after her sister's murder and her car found abandoned the next month, May Beth contacts WNRK New York to get some media attention and help. So begins a serialized podcast, The Girls, by producer West McCray, who pursues Sadie's story and consequently Mattie's as well.
The Girls explores what happens when a devastating crime reveals a deeply unsettling mystery. It's a story about family, about sisters, and the untold lives lived in small-town America. It's about the lengths we go to protect the ones we love. . . and the high price we pay when we can't. (pg. 1)
Sadie alternates between The Girls podcast and Sadie's telling of her pursuit of justice for her sister. West's podcast includes narration and interviews with persons of interest as he tries to locate Sadie, all the while unravelling her story. There's May Beth Foster who acts as his home base for information and clarification, and then the people Sadie meets along her journey. The chapters based on Sadie's pursuit of Mattie's murderer begin at an out-of-town diner where Sadie suggests she's looking for her father, always showing a photo of her family with Claire's ex, Keith. From that starting point, she gets one lead after another, desperate to locate the man she is convinced is responsible for Mattie's death. Mixed with reminiscences, many unsettling, as triggered by those she meets, Sadie must uncover Keith's story, told from the points of view of those who considered him a good guy and those who won't reveal much from the cloak of shame and trauma. Regardless, she pursues and inevitably helps in ways she might never know.

Courtney Summers always tells bold stories, whether based on zombies (This is Not a Test, 2012; Please Remain Calm, 2014), on sexual assault and shame (All the Rage, 2015), on bullying (Some Girls Are, 2010) or self-destruction (Cracked Up to Be, 2008). They immerse the reader in tense situations of agonizing brutality, emotional and physical, that rarely have happy endings. But that's reality. Life is not neat and it's not fair. It's raw and real and not for the faint of heart. Courtney Summers sugarcoats nothing. Nothing at all. Even as West McCray speaks to witnesses or persons of interest, they spin Sadie's story with an effort to make themselves look better. It's not honest but it's real. Take Claire, for instance. This woman cared more for the child who looked like her than the one who didn't (and blames that on her youth, her mother's death and May Beth); neglected her children in favour of her addiction; sends an abuser packing only when she suspects he might have attacked her favourite; abandons her children for years; and blames West McCray when he can't find Sadie. Yikes. Sadie's story is gut-wrenching in itself: bullied for her stuttering, neglected by her mother, abused by her mother's boyfriend, abandoned, becoming a surrogate parent to a resentful child, and grief-stricken for her beloved sister. Her story is almost too much to take.

Don't look for a happy ending in Sadie, and it's not because Courtney Summers ends Sadie with another tragedy. It's just hard to tell what kind of an ending Courtney Summers has given readers. While there is justice, Courtney Summers also leaves a gaping hole in Sadie's story that readers will need to fill, either with hope for a new story for Sadie or with another tragedy to complete her original one. Read Sadie and let me know what you think happened to this fierce young woman because her story is far too important to let her be forgotten.

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