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 meager 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.
I remember when this book first came out, and everyone gave it so much love and praise. And now having – finally – read Sadie, I can absolutely see why. Sadie follows the eponymous teen who is searching for her sister’s killer, with every intent to kill him herself, and a podcast reporter trying to uncover the mystery behind Sadie’s disappearance and her journey. Perhaps one of the most compelling books I have read in a long time, Sadie is the sort of book that sears its story into your memory and will stay with you for many days after.
Mystery or a story about a girl?
On the surface, Sadie is a mystery – it’s about the murder of a young girl, the disappearance of a teen, and the whodunit. But I also feel like it isn’t just a mystery; it’s also a story about girls who have disappeared, not just Sadie, but any girl who disappears. The story may begin with the pivotal question of ‘what happened to Sadie?’ as the story progresses and the details of Sadie’s disappearance and her tracks begin to unfold, it becomes clear that Sadie is less about the mystery of Sadie’s disappearance (though that was indeed an important question, even for me as a reader).
Rather, as we begin to learn more about Sadie’s motives, her encounters with people, and the things that she does, we also learn that Sadie wasn’t an enigma or a mystery at all. Led by Sadie’s narrative and followed by West’s investigations, the story becomes increasingly becomes clear that the book is about a teenage girl with a childhood taken forcefully from her, a teenage girl who loved her sister so fiercely and protectively, and a teenage girl who was willing to do anything for her – include find and kill her sister’s killer. Ultimately, a significant point of Sadie is the fragility of youth and innocence, how they can be stolen, and how young girls often pay the price for it.
An alternating narrative that reveals discrepancies in privilege
Sadie is told using alternating narratives: Sadie and her revenge journey to track and ultimately kill her sister’s murderer, and West McCray and his reporting on Sadie, who has gone missing, as he tries to follow her tracks. The story begins with Sadie with one clue of where to find her sister’s killer, and follows her across a long and harrowing journey, following clue after clue after clue, fuelled by the rage she feels but also fuelled by the love she has for her sister, who was her whole world.
Something that dawns on you whilst reading Sadie is the evil that girls, especially young girls, endure at the hands of deceptively ‘good’ appearances, and the way that Summer tells this is utter brilliance. At first, I thought Summers was trying to say that human beings are complex and we can never know what people hide, but the more I thought about it, it was more profound than that. Through Sadie’s narrative, or through the eyes of a young teen girl, we see wickedness in plain sight and cruelty in all its deceptive appearances. Conversely, through West’s narrative, or through the eyes of a cis adult man who had the power to change people’s lives with their reporting, we see the attempts and the scramble to justify the humanity of evil men and how ‘they couldn’t possibly do it, they were nice people’. And I think that’s such an incredibly powerful thing to demonstrate in an alternating narrative: appearances are often very deceiving, afforded mostly to those with privilege, and those with power, prestige, and respect.
Unforgettable and vivid character studies
All of the characters in Sadie were brilliant and such memorable characters. The story was led by an incredible protagonist: Sadie, the nineteen year old girl with a stutter, who seeks vengeance and blood following the death of her sister’s murder. Sadie’s narrative was powerful as she not only wrestles with the trauma of losing her sister and the burdens of her secret, but also with how people perceive her and her stutter. Underneath all her convictions, again, we come to learn that Sadie was just a teenage girl – one that, although justified in her mission, was also deeply flawed, hurt, vulnerable, and craved – and deserved – the love of her family.
As the story and the details of Sadie’s life unfolds, we also learn more about her family and how they played a role in her disappearance. We also come to learn a lot about Mattie, Sadie’s little sister, and the sister-relationship and dynamic between them. We learn about what brought her and Sadie together, and what pulls them apart, and how their alcoholic mother, Claire, shaped the trajectory of their family life and also the girls’ stories. Sadie’s life story and how all things came to be can be mapped out one large web of connection and disconnect – and it’s frightening how simple it appears to be, though how Sadie lives and navigates her life is far from simple. Indeed, the truths uncovered are powerful, gut-wrenching, and heart-breaking.
MY CONCLUSION: RECOMMENDED
Electrifying and poignant, Sadie is an unforgettable and excellent story. Rather than just a mystery, it also provides important and needed discourse on the disappearances of girls – and how it is a worldwide crisis that affects all young people, especially those in vulnerable situations – and how appearances can be incredibly deceiving, particularly more so for those in privileged positions. A powerful book, and one I won’t be forgetting any time soon.
Note: I read this book via audiobook and I cannot recommend it enough! Boasts multiple voice actors, sound effects – the audiobook will make you feel like you’re listening to a real podcast.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: A teen attempts to track down her sister’s killer; a reporter tries to follow her tracks.
Perfect for: People who listen to podcasts and enjoy mystery-crime podcasts; readers who enjoy mystery.
Think twice if: Finding closure or a definitive answer in a mystery is important for you to enjoy a book.
Genre: young adult mystery, thriller, crime
Trigger/content warning: blood, physical violence, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, paedophilia, substance abuse
Sadie is a rare book that not only lives up to its hype, but actually exceeds it. What a brilliant story, and I think it may be one of my favourite audiobooks of all time. There’s not much else to say about Sadie – it’s an incredible book, and one I recommend for those who can handle its challenge subject matter (see trigger/content warnings above).
- Have you read Sadie? If so, what did you think of it?
- What do you think the ‘point’ of Sadie is? Or, is there a point at all?
- Sadie has a great audiobook production — can you recommend any other books that are told well as an audiobook?