By Courtney Summers
Published September 4, 2018 by Wednesday Books
Sadie is a nasty little gutpunch of a book. Part true-crime podcast, part revenge narrative, this book is compulsively readable.
Reporter West McCray is on the trail of Sadie Hunter, a missing girl. A few months earlier, Sadie’s 13-year-old sister, Mattie, was murdered. Now Sadie herself is gone, apparently of her own volition. The reporter isn’t sure about the story at first, thinking it’s just another missing girl, but he quickly finds himself sucked in.
Sadie Hunter has had a rough life. Born to a teenaged single mother, she never knew her father. She grew up in a trailer, and her mother is disinterested and neglectful. Sadie has a bad stutter, something that probably could have been ameliorated with help, but her mother just didn’t bother. Sadie’s entire life has been based around taking care of her younger sister, and when her sister is murdered, Sadie is left rudderless. But she finds a new purpose: searching for the man she believes killed her sister.
The narrative switches between Sadie’s first person narrative, and transcripts of the podcast. I think the switch between narrative styles works really well, both in terms of revealing clues to the mystery, but also to give the reader a break from the intensity of Sadie’s narrative. The transcripts are by their very nature a more detached narrative, but then all of a sudden, there will be a revelation that makes you sit up and take notice. It’s a really clever format.
This book is brutal. Because of her stutter, people tend to underestimate Sadie, but as she says:
“I’m the result of baby bottles filled with mountain dew. I have a system that doesn’t quite know how to process the finer things in life. My body is sharp enough to cut glass and in desperate need of rounding out, but sometimes I don’t mind. A body might not always be beautiful, but a body can be a beautiful deception. I’m stronger than I look.”
Sadie’s narrative is hard to read at times. She’s so single-minded, but danger lurks at every turn and it’s sort of like watching a horror movie, where you want to scream, “No, don’t go in there.” Her journey takes her to a lot of ugly places, and she meets some awful people. There’s a sense of inevitability about her quest, and even with all the dread I was feeling, I couldn’t put the book down.
West McCray is ambivalent about the story at first. As awful as it is to say, girls go missing all the time and he doesn’t think the story is that interesting. But May Beth, Sadie and Mattie’s surrogate grandmother, won’t let things go and her determination makes him decide there’s something more to the story. As he investigates Sadie’s disappearance, he finds himself emotionally involved in the mystery.
This book was so gripping, and I can’t recommend it enough. Courtney Summer has a long backlist, and I’ll be checking her earlier books.
TW: child molestation