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.
Sadie splintered in my heart, and I’m sure the author meant it to. I finished it, shivering with a chill inside me that nothing could possibly drive away. It’s been days and I still can’t swallow past the unaccountable lump in my throat. But I guess that’s just it—all that is harder to read, proves much slower to heal.
So, what’s this book about?
Nineteen-years-old Sadie has raised her little sister, thirteen-years-old Mattie, since she was born to Claire, their drug-addicted absent mother and a woman who belonged to them so little Sadie did not miss her. Sadie loved her sister something fierce that if you would swipe her heart searching for fingerprints, you’d find only Mattie’s. She had hung on so long by that single filament of purpose, and the moment she learned of Mattie’s murder, it snapped. Everything and everyone from then on has been lumped with the rest of the world as “not Mattie”, and Sadie’s grief, anger and hatred—as old as herself, and as pure as her love for her sister— lingered and ruled in her stead and prompted her to set out on a dangerous path to find her sister’s murderer…and kill him.
Radio personality West McCray, enlisted by Sadie’s surrogate grandmother for help and goaded by his boss, starts a serialized podcast to track Sadie’s journey. McCray leans on the bits and pieces of Sadie’s story that are strewn all around him to learn, messily and gracelessly, the horrifying extent of what happened—truths and secrets that could never be shriven—and his desperation tapers down to a deep pit of need in his gut: find Sadie before it’s too late.
“I can’t take another dead girl.”
Sadie is, to be charitable, an uncomfortable book; but I entirely believe that it’s meant to be discomfiting. It is haunting and creepy, a story of loss and lies and betrayal wrapped around a skeleton of heartache and grief. A tale of sisterly devotion that hasn’t tasted any real hope in so long and has been fed and nurtured on darker things—guilt and hurt and so much rage.
Reading this book felt as though I was clinging to the edge of reason by my fingertips, and the spinning world might at any given moment shake me off and hurl me. All I could feel was the approach, the closing-in, and the dread—a clinging, muttering dread, tenacious as cobwebs. My heart was wild with it, and with anguish too, and every new page was scraping a place already raw. I was feeling the story’s urgency pull me deeper and deeper inside it and there was only horror as every new truth came clear to me. I genuinely wished that I could somehow form each new revelation into a different picture and disprove my dark suspicions.
We travel the pathways of Sadie’s life and shudder at the horrors there. Sadie has turned her heart out for the reader to examine the contents. Her voice is visceral, conveying her emotions with startling physicality. It was so deeply heartbreaking to see how much Sadie’s love for her sister inflects her narration, and that sense of marveling at what multitudes could come from one person stayed with me throughout the entire book. My desolation deepened at the knowledge that each day, the crank will turn anew, and the gears of the world will lurch into motion but the broken edges of her little sister’s sundered name will not grow smooth with time; Sadie’s guilt and grief were corrosive, and she was a husk.
If you’ve read a Courtney Summers novel, you know that she never pulls her punches, condescends, softens it up or sugarcoats. She knows what teenagers are capable of and what her teenage readers can bear, and she brings both past the very edge of comfort; the end result would be either short and abrupt as a firework, or long and spun-out, and you never knew which, the ending might be soft or brutal, and you never knew which.
Sadie is a story that confronts you with the gruesome truth that the monsters we conceive in our imagination are not nearly as frightening as the monstrous acts perpetrated by ordinary human beings. That when there isn’t even a wisp of humanity to grasp at, let alone a strand to hang on to and follow into the dark, you are only plucking at strings of conscience that will yield no sound.
Sadie still keeps replaying itself over and over, relentless, so many questions coiling tightly in my mind, boiling down to one terrible conviction:
I can’t take another dead girl, either.
TW: pedophilia, child sexual abuse, parental neglect, mentions and descriptions of substance abuse.