Courtney Summers' new young adult novel, Sadie, was exactly what I'd hoped for: a suspenseful journey into murder, a disappearance, and revenge, written in an incredibly compelling style. The story is told through dual narratives--that of Sadie, a teenager who vanishes while tracking down her sister's killer, and transcripts of a podcast about the missing girl (Sadie).
I was on the edge of my seat all the way through and finished the book late at night because I had to know how it ends. And let me just say, the ending is spot on.
Sadie is fiction, but it has the feel of reading true crime, with a parallel narrative of a podcast reminiscent of Serial or Limetown, so I asked Summers if she has favorites in those categories.
*Sadie is our number one pick for the Best Young Adult Books of September
It’s a cold, cruel world out there. If the true crime category is anything, it’s a testament to that. It shines a light on the darkest corners, revealing an unsettling fact of the human condition: not all of us are good. Some of us are bad. And we are all capable of brutally violent acts of destruction against others—and ourselves.
But the true crime category also seems to exist as a response to that brutality, so driven by a need for truth and justice that it doesn’t only shine a light, it is a light, a reminder that for every ugliness our reality has to offer, there are those determined to right its wrongs and bring some measure of peace to those who have been wronged by it.
Sadie is about a girl who goes missing on the hunt for her little sister’s murderer and the true crime podcast dedicated to finding her. Alternating between a traditional first person perspective and podcast transcripts, it explores the twisted hearts in small towns and big cities and our insatiable need to understand why the world is the way it is.
Here are some of my favorite true crime books and podcasts that do the same.
Zodiac by Robert Graysmith
The Zodiac Killer, active in the 1960s and 70s in California, is a legend now, with 5 confirmed kills (though he boasted 37). He’d send coded messages to newspapers, one of them being The San Francisco Chronicle, where Robert Graysmith was working at the time. Zodiac is an incredibly thorough snapshot not only of the killer and his crimes, but of one man’s obsession with both. Graysmith devoted years of his life to finding out the Zodiac’s true identity.
Criminal is a podcast featuring (per its website), “stories of people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle.” The episodes are short stand-alones that don’t lack for impact. One of the things I love most about Criminal is its willingness to put a magnifying lens on the pieces that make the whole, not always offering its listeners a clear, clean view—but definitely giving them something more to think about.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
True crime journalist Michelle McNamara’s dogged pursuit of The Golden State Killer is extremely well-known by now. McNamara’s tragic death before the completion of her manuscript meant she never got to see her work published and she never got to see Joseph James DeAngelo arrested for the crimes. But her commitment to uncovering his identity, and bringing justice and end to a longstanding nightmare, shows the heart behind these kinds of investigations.
S-Town was a revelation—what initially presented as a true crime podcast about a man, John B. McLemore, who wanted producer Brian Reed to investigate an alleged murder in his hometown slowly unfurled into a character study wrapped in one mystery after the other. S-Town was an emotionally fraught listening experience that served as a reminder of the complex inner lives of the people around us and the impact we, and they, all have the potential to make.
Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker
Lost Girls is a grim, starkly written account of a group of women, online escorts, murdered by a serial killer on Long Island. That serial killer has never been caught. There’s nothing sensational about this book. Kolker presents and extremely respectful portrait of lost lives and police failure. It’s a searing, uncompromising call for accountability.
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