"Sadie" by Courtney Summers
When I was a teenager, I was blissfully sheltered.
I mean, not like "homeschooled" level of sheltered.
But... Like… despite the fact that I burned through probably 3 copies of the “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack having the time of my life with my Walkman, I didn't realize that the reason Baby had to fill in for Penny was because Penny had a back-room abortion until I was, like, 24... So… Take from that what you will.
For a time, I naively assumed that all teens grew up like this — temporarily ignorant of the harsh realities they would have no choice but to face as adults.
Then I graduated college and took a job at an urban charter school and my eyes were opened.
There is a part of me, however small, that wishes I still didn’t know how difficult some children have it. That I didn’t know how common, really, it is for teens and even younger children to be confronted with ugly truths about the world far before they are developmentally ready to handle them.
The larger, more dominant, part of me feels that if children are being forced to deal with adult-level difficulties, we, as adults, at least need to not be ignorant to that fact.
And this novel proved to me how important it is that adults not make like an ostrich and bury their heads in the sand when the going gets tough.
Because, if there had been a little less head-burying, and a little more attention-paying, things might have worked out differently for our titular protagonist, Sadie, and her sister.
As this novel opens, we discover that Sadie’s only real companion, Mattie — a younger sister who Sadie essentially mothered — has been murdered.
Her body was discovered by a passerby in a field and, light on leads — and, TBH, light on initiative — the local police make little headway in solving the crime.
Unwilling to accept that her sister’s killer will never be brought to justice — and pretty certain she knows who the killer is — Sadie buys a shitty car that you should never try to drive across the country, and proceeds to try to drive across the country.
Several months go by, and the residents of Cold Creek, the depressed town in which Sadie lived and Mattie died, hear nothing from Sadie. Alarmed by this lack of contact, her surrogate grandmother contacts the host of an investigative podcast and asks him for help in tracking Sadie down.
And from here the story unfolds in two different perspectives and along two different timelines — from the perspective of Sadie in the past, as she left Cold Creek and set out on a hunt for Mattie’s killer, and from the perspective of podcast host West McRay in the present as he sets off from Cold Creek on a hunt for Sadie.
*Note - I’m being deliberately vague in describing the plot of this novel because — as repeat readers will know I often do — I went into this blind. I think that, for this book in particular, the lack of preconceived notions — the not knowing, and the gradual discovery — greatly enhanced my enjoyment. So, basically, I don’t want to rob you guys of that.
What I can tell you about this novel, though, is that it was pretty fucking profoundly good.
Sadie’s character was authentically tragic and believably scarred.
Appropriately, given that the novel bears her name, the strength of her character — and her depth and dynamicness — completely made this novel.
From, basically, chapter one, I was connected with her.
I cared about her.
I hoped beyond hope that things would work out for her — that she would be found, settled and contented and at peace — even when it seemed incredibly unlikely that her ending would be a happy one.
And, although Sadie was inarguably the star, this wasn’t a one woman show. The other characters that inhabited the world of this novel brought with them their own strength. Impressively, even the minor characters had a grit and believability that enhanced the overall impact of the novel, allowing the words to wash over me and making it difficult, at times, to separate fiction from reality.
Honestly, it’s hard for me to formulate any real criticism of this book.
The closest I can come — and I admit it’s Stretch Armstrong level of stretching it — is that this book is difficult to read.
In the grand tradition of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak — and, more recently, Tiffany D. Jackson’s “Allegedly” — this novel didn’t pull any fucking punches.
And, unlike in so many other novels, the author didn’t relegate the difficult content to some subplot, softening the impact with a temperate main plot. No, this entire novel was difficult content from which you got no reprieve.
In truth, aside from the temporary mental distress that devouring this novel may have caused me, I think that the fact that it’s difficult to read is good.
Because it’s honest.
Perhaps one of the reasons I was such a sheltered teen was that, during my adolescence, YA literature was, by and large, comprised of bubblegum sweet tales of benign teen drama.
Occupying the minds of the protagonists in the books that filled my bookshelf were ridiculous and trivial concerns — like whether Todd Wilkins and Elizabeth Wakefield would ultimately end up together.
Today's YA authors seem so much more willing to acknowledge, in a way that their predecessors often didn't, the very real struggles and strife that teens face.
And this book was a perfect example.
Taking on taboo topics, it unapologetically pulls back the curtain and airs the dirty laundry — laundry that needs to be aired, because the only people that hiding the truth hurts, really, are the children themselves.
This book is one that I will remember. And Sadie is a protagonist who will stay with me for the foreseeable future.
Without reservation, I give this profoundly powerful novel 5 out of 5 cocktails.
When I was a teen, I spent way too much time reading lame serieses — Sweet Valley High in particular. In retrospect, I wish I had branched out more. This makes me curious as to what our readers read when they were teens. What was your favorite book when you were a teenager? Tell me about it in the comments, below.