ASK Musings

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Daily Archive: 25/10/2018



October 2018



Sadie by Courtney Summers

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for: Anyone who listens to long-form storytelling podcasts; anyone who appreciates good storytelling; anyone who can stomach a book with some really disturbing parts.

In a nutshell: Nineteen-year-old Sadie has gone missing, and its possible that it has something to do with the recent death of her 13-year-old sister. Her surrogate grandmother contacts an NPR-type radio station to see if one of their journalists can help find Sadie. (Ignore the tag-line on the cover though — it doesn’t do the plot justice.)

Worth quoting:
“I always forget fear is a conquerable thing but I learn it over and over again and that, I guess, is better than never learning it.”

Why I chose it:
I was at the independent bookshop in the town I grew up in and asked if they had Rebecca Traister’s new book Good and Mad. They didn’t, but the bookseller did say that if I’m interested in female rage, she had a suggestion for me. She wasn’t wrong.

This book is fantastic, but right up front I need to say that it deals with a REAL dark topic. Sadie is looking for Keith, who was her mother’s boyfriend for a while when she was 11 or 12. Very quickly we learn that Keith has done something to earn Sadie’s wrath, and frankly, it’s really not good. And this is a YA book. Jesus.

The story unfolds in a couple of ways: through a season one Serial-style podcast exploring Sadie’s disappearance, and through point of view chapters Sadie. They alternate, with the slowly catching up to Sadie’s story. So we’ll often get the podcast exploring things that we already know a little of, which makes it that much more compelling. Like, I know what’s already happened. You’ve got to work harder at figuring it out, West McCray (the podcast creator)!

The podcast sections are brilliant. The first episode starts with the fact that there is a theme song for it. That alone was just an excellent touch. And by the fourth episode, the first line is always “The Girls is brought to you by Macmillan Publishers.” Like, of course it eventually has a sponsor. It has to make money somehow. But seeing it written out (as opposed to, say, skipping through that week’s Hello Fresh or Casper Mattress ad read) illuminates how absurd it is. The story of the murder of one sister and the disappearance of another has a sponsor. Yikes.

Plus they way the podcast episodes are written – I could hear them. Of course, I first thought the host was a woman, so I was literally hearing Sarah Koenig as I read it, and had to adjust later on. (What? West is a gender-neutral name.) Then there are the descriptions of different conversations, like the host on the phone with his producer, or interviewing someone in person, or doing their voice-over in studio. I listen to many podcasts (The Dream is my current favorite).

By interspersing the podcast episodes with perspective chapters from Sadie, seeing what she’s going through, her trauma, her pain, her determination, it’s a reminder that these podcasts are about real people. Sometimes they’re historical, with the individuals long-dead. But so many of them are about real people, with family and lives. I keep referencing Serial, but I think this is a bit different from that, because, for all they may have tried, that was more about the accused murderer than the victim, and I don’t think Hae Min Lee’s family was happy about it, whereas in this book, Sadie’s family is explicitly asking for help.

Sadie is an interesting character. She’s from a dying town, and spends her whole life until the story picks up living in a trailer. She cares for her sister after their mother — who has a substance use disorder — leaves them. She doesn’t see much a future for herself, and is fueled mostly by her sister’s murder. It’s heartbreaking, the moments when you see that Sadie could have had a different life. Not dramatically different, but there are so many what-ifs: What if her mother had stayed? What if her mother hadn’t favored her younger sister? What if her sister hadn’t been murdered?

There are a lot of cliffhangers – nearly every Sadie chapter ends with an “oh shit,” then the next chapter is a podcast episode. It makes it so hard to stop reading; I was up until about 11 reading it last night, and just finished it this evening. The end had be processing a whole shitload of emotions.

I don’t read much YA unless it’s so popular that it’s about to / has already become a movie (So, basically The Hunger Games, The Hate U Give, The Fault in Our Stars). I’m just not in the know, and so usually I need someone to make a recommendation. This book is also a YA murder mystery, so yeah, not really one that would normally be on my list.

But damn, I’m thankful to the bookseller who recommended it. Female rage indeed.



October 2018



Twenty Years

Written by , Posted in Adventures

My time in high school was absolutely fine. It wasn’t traumatic in any specific or unique way; I did well academically, I had some good friends, I had extracurricular activities (choir, mostly) that I loved. By senior year, I even had a boyfriend who I would continue to date throughout most of college. I wasn’t popular, but I wasn’t unpopular, either. I just existed, mostly happily. Sure, there were the typical issues that come up within friend groups — some bickering, some un-returned crushes — but overall, I was happy enough.

I share this because I think my 20-year high school reunion experience is completely colored by my high school experience. Someone who hated high school, or someone who loved every minute and still considers it the best four years of their lives will likely have a different take.

My ten-year high school reunion was fine. I went with a couple of girlfriends, but I don’t remember seeing that many people who I wasn’t already in touch with. I do recall that one person brought a newborn, and that someone (I cannot for the life of me remember who) offered me a swig from a flask in the ladies room (which I took, obviously). But no one ended the night in an incinerator.

Last year, a Facebook group popped up to get people thinking about our 20-year high school reunion, and people posted updates on their lives. This was before we moved to London, so I mentioned we were living in Seattle with our cats, and also that I invented post-it notes. A couple people commented, getting the joke. Others were married or weren’t, had kids or didn’t, lived in the area or didn’t, had successful jobs or were taking care of their home. Nothing totally out of the ordinary. One person is moderately famous, and they posted in the group and seem to still be very nice, so that’s kind of cool.

Once Austin and I decided to move to London, I realized the reunion was at the perfect time for us to coordinate a visit. See our family, go to the reunion, pop up to Seattle and visit friends.

As the reunion approached, I checked the list of attendees and realized I didn’t recognize most of the names. My graduating class had over 400 people in it, and maybe two of the people who had RSVPd by then were people I would have considered friends while we were in high school. I recognized a few names, but some were just … brand new to me. The girlfriends I’d gone to the ten-year reunion with weren’t coming this time, and I started to wonder exactly why I was doing this.

(I’m still not entirely sure.)

The evening arrived, and I was nervous in a way I haven’t really been before. Austin gave me a little pep talk as we walked to the venue, which I didn’t realize I needed. Was I worried about what people would think of me? I don’t think so. I was actually more just anxious that there was no reason for me to be there.

With Facebook, it’s pretty easy to stay in touch with the people you want to stay in touch with. Even though I deleted my account for the summer, in the month that I’d been back I’d found a lot of the people who I’d be interested in meeting up with solo (as is my rule for Facebook friendship). It seems to me that part of the fun of reunions in the past was seeing people one had lost touch with but wanted to connect with. These days, it’s hard to stay disconnected even if one wants to.

But I was wrong. So, so wrong. I had a weirdly fun time. Part of the fun was indeed connecting with people who I’d lost touch with but still enjoyed catching up with (more on that later), but part of it was the utter bizarreness of being in a room with a lot of people that I recognized but just genuinely don’t need to be around. I don’t have good or bad feelings towards them (I mean, I hope they’re happy and kind people, but they aren’t ever on my mind.) We shared four years of our lives, sort of, and then went off into the world, and it all felt both the same and totally different.

It didn’t actually matter whether I interacted with any of the people who hadn’t been my friends. Once I’d chatted with four or five people (including my choir teacher, which was a delightful surprise) I could leave the restaurant at any time. It almost felt like a sociological or anthropological study.

There were some odd components. We were all wearing name tags with our senior photos on them, so people would walk by, look at the tag, and determine whether they wanted to stop and say hi. Also, the drinks were super strong, and there was not a lot of food, so folks got tipsy REAL quick.

So, the women: they all looked and seemed lovely. My mother has a theory that women who aren’t feeling like they look their best won’t show up, and maybe that’s the case, but every single lady at the reunion looked happy and healthy. It was great to see. I have no idea how any of them are in their personal lives (my guess is that many of them hold political beliefs that I would not be okay with, given where many of them live), but in the two+ hours we were around each other, they all seemed fine.

But some of the men: oh buddies.

The entire evening was surreal. I just kept looking around, thinking about how odd it is that 20 years have passed and most of these people seem … exactly the same. And maybe I do too. Some extra pounds, a bunch of tattoos, a couple of piercings, a fucking awesome husband, but I think the essential ‘me’ is the same.

Which leads me to the best part of the night: seeing some old friends. There are a few people who I’ve lost touch with but who were close friends during high school. We hung out near the F wing of school, and were a bit Freaks and Geeks ish. The guys were in a band (as was I, for a hot minute — I played guitar and the only song we played was Free Fallin’). There was a lot of talk of Star Wars. By the time I was a junior, I spent more of my time with friends from choir, but I have great memories of hanging out with the F wing folks.

And that night, I got to catch up with some of those folks, and it was fantastic. Guys who were kind, sweet, and funny teenagers grew into kind, sweet, and funny adults. They all have kids, and many have partners, but they haven’t grown into adult assholes. My memories of them are not false – I did have good friends there, and they were good people. I’ve found a few of them on Facebook again, and look forward to seeing pictures and reading updates about their lives.

I’m happy I went, for sure. It was a trip, and worth it for the conversations I had. Not sure if I’ll go to my 30th (unless Jen and Kelly promise to go with me again), but who knows. Maybe.