by Coutney Summers
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery
Length: 311 Pages
Release date: September 4, 2018
Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.
But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meagre clues to find him.
When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.
“It was a terrible thing, sure, but we live in a world that has no shortage of terrible things. You can’t stop for all of them.”
Let me start by saying that I listened to this as an audiobook, and the story is so well suited to that format. Sadie’s first person point of view chapters are broken up with excerpts from West McCray’s podcast on the subject of her disappearance. This was recorded with a full cast, so you’re treated to the varying voices of all the people interviewed by McCray and it really lends a sense of realism to the narrative.
GoodReads users have labeled this as “young adult,” but I’d personally place it more in the “new adult” category due to the maturity of some of the themes. Sadie is a fast-paced mystery that almost borders on horror at times, as it explores the depths of human depravity and selfishness.
Mattie once asked me… she’d just come home flush from a crush on Jonah Sweeten and asked me how you know when you like someone, and if I liked any boys like she did, and I didn’t know what tot tell her. That I tried not to think about that kind of stuff, because it was painful, because I thought I could ever have it, but when I did end up liking someone, it always made me ache right down to my core. I realized pretty early on that the who didn’t really matter so much. That anybody who listens to me, I end up loving them just a little.
As fun as the “podcast” chapters were, I often spent them looking forward to hearing from Sadie again. This was partly because we get to untangle the mystery through her perspective, but mainly because I found her to be a really interesting and sympathetic protagonist who fails to fall into the pitfalls and cliches common in YA novels. Sadie’s story does not hinge on finding love with a boy or on finding a sense of identity as she ventures into adulthood.
Sadie’s story is a single-minded hunt for revenge against the person who took her sister’s life. This is complicated by her young age, her gender, and a stubborn stutter which causes people to underestimate her at every turn. Essentially, this unassuming girl has been given a storyline you’d expect in a male superhero origin story. But she has a car and a knife and she’s pretty sure she can handle it. Besides, she spent most of her childhood learning how to be stronger than the world had any right to expect of her, mainly in service of keeping her little sister safe; now that Mattie, the center of her world, has been taken from her, the only thing she has left is the hope for justice.
Part of what I love about Sadie is that she’s so angry in a way we don’t often get to see in young female heroines. While there’s a plethora of teenage angst when it comes to characters in her age group, this is different. This is a deep, simmering rage at a sense of powerlessness and injustice on the most personal scale, and it’s heavily gendered. This is resentment at being underestimated, absolute fury over having devoted her life to one thing only to be sabotaged by a predator.
Sadie expertly handles harsh realities such as sexual abuse, addiction, and poverty. This novel gives us a protagonist who, despite the fact that circumstances have made her a victim, has such fierceness and agency, such determination to be in control of her own story.
Thanks for reading! If you’ve read Sadie, please share your thoughts in the comments!