Review: Sadie by Courtney Summers
By Ardi AlspachAugust 31, 2018
Sadie by Courtney Summers is a propulsive and harrowing novel about the depth of a sister’s love, with an ending you won’t be able to stop talking about.
“Created and hosted by one of our longtime producers, West McCray, 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.”
This is not a podcast, although it begins that way. This is Sadie, a remarkable and intense YA thriller that tells the story of two sisters. There are two points of view: West McCray’s, as told through transcripts of his podcast; and Sadie’s, though it’s clear she’s not telling everything she knows.
It begins with the death of Mattie, Sadie’s beloved 13-year-old sister, who disappears after getting into a truck with an unknown man. Shortly after, her body is found in the woods. The girls’ mother, Claire, an addict, had taken off long before this, and their neighbor May Beth was acting as a surrogate grandmother. She’s the one who calls West McCray and asks for help. Not to solve the murder of Mattie, which had happened the year before, but to find Sadie, who’s gone missing.
Sadie is 19 years old and has had a stutter nearly her entire life. One can’t help but wonder if it’s a result of living with a junkie for a parent and having to essentially raise her own sister. From the age of six, when Mattie was born, Sadie’s been in charge. But that hasn’t kept them safe from predatory men, and though she did her best to protect Mattie, she ultimately failed. So this is not a story about rising up from extreme poverty and abuse. No, this is about revenge—because Sadie is the only one who knows who killed her sister.
Sadie is a gritty, no-nonsense teen with a powerful voice. Hers is a story of trauma and survival.
The screen door on the trailer is rusted out, sparks a whine into all our surrounding Nowhere That Matters but if you need a visual, picture a place far, far less than suburbia and then imagine me, a few more rings down that ladder living in a trailer rented from Fed-Me-Blueberries May Beth for as long as I’ve been alive. I live in a place that’s only good for leaving, is all that needs to be said about it, and I don’t let myself look back. Doesn’t matter if I want to, it’s just better if I don’t.
The chapters from Sadie’s point of view read like a journal. We’re only given glimpses of what happens to her, almost as if much of it is just too painful for her to tell. We can extrapolate that she’s suffered some abuse. And on her hunt for her sister’s killer, what we learn about the murderer reveals a lot about Sadie, Mattie, and Claire as well. If you can imagine the worst thing a grown man is capable of doing to a defenseless little girl, then you get an idea of what they’ve all had to deal with. The story is painful to read as it unfolds but no less important for the awareness it brings to the abuses that occur in our society. And listeners of real true crime podcasts know the evils of which mankind is capable.
Though Sadie is seeking revenge, ultimately, there’s no glory in her actions. She doesn’t do this for justice. She doesn’t even care what happens to her when it’s all over. All she has is a straightforward determination to hunt down a killer, and she suspects it might not end well for her. This is a brutal, beautiful story, so don’t be fooled by the YA categorization. The only thing that separates this novel from adult thrillers is that most of the violence and depravity happens off screen or is only alluded to. However, that only serves to add to the suspense of the novel. As Sadie tells her story and West follows the clues she leaves behind, the gaps begin to fill and a more complete picture of what happened emerges.
Following the explosive popularity of the NPR podcast Serial and the other investigative podcasts that have cropped up in the past few years, Sadie captures the zeitgeist of our time with a fierce protagonist and a subtle look at what trauma and loss can do to a person. This is the thriller of 2018.