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.)
“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.