Though it pains me to admit it, I am not a fan of audiobooks: they take so much longer to get through than a print edition, they distract me from my driving, or I’m too distracted by other things (like driving, or my children, or cooking dinner) to pay attention to the story. But everyone I know RAVES about them – how compelling the narrators are, how many more books they’re able to read, how they look forward to exercise and housework because they have such a great audiobook on their phone. (This seems unlikely, by the way.)
Still, I thought I should give audiobooks another try. When Courtney Summers’ Sadie recently won the American Library Association’s Odyssey Award for best youth/teen audiobook, I decided the unusual structure — part traditional narrative and part “podcast” – made it the perfect choice to ease into the audiobook format, especially as it has a full cast narration instead of a single reader.
There’s nothing easy about this story, however, in whatever format you read it.
Sadie is the story of a girl who sets out from her hardscrabble Colorado town to track down the man she believes killed her thirteen-year-old sister, Mattie. It’s split into two storylines – one is narrated by Sadie herself as she hunts Mattie’s killer. The other is a true-crime podcast in the vein of Serial, narrated by a public radio reporter named West McCray, months after Sadie’s car and belongings were found abandoned. The two stories unspool in alternating chapters, each giving a different perspective on Mattie’s murder and Sadie’s quest.
As more of Sadie’s story is revealed, the book confronts subjects like child abuse, intergenerational poverty, addiction, and parental neglect. Sadie’s a prickly character – smart, with stutter that makes people underestimate her, bitter and driven and often foul-mouthed. But her love of Mattie shines fiercely throughout, even as it sends her into increasingly dangerous situations. And West, who initially dismissed the sisters’ story with a glib, “Girls go missing all the time,” is drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery, growing ever more frantic to find Sadie before it’s too late. It’s the kind of story you can’t turn away from, even as your dread grows with every chapter.
The experience of listening to Sadie was incredibly moving and visceral, in a way I suspect the print version would not have been. Between the full-cast recording and small podcast details, like evocative music opening each episode, sponsorship announcements, West’s polished “on-air” delivery style, it was easy to forget I was listening to a fictional story. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it, exactly, as it’s hard to enjoy hearing about the hardships Sadie endured, but the entire book was brilliantly written – and listening to it made it even more powerful. Sadie is a harrowing book, but an important one, with an ending that will stick with you long after you close the cover or turn off the speaker.
Regardless of what format you choose, Sadie is a great choice for fans of gritty mysteries, whether they’re true crime or fictional; and most likely to appeal to older teens and adults.