Sunday, July 30, 2017

Always snatching defeat, it's the devil I know: ARE YOU SLEEPING.

Are You SleepingAre You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Josie Buhrman's father, Chuck, was shot in the head in their family home when Josie and her twin sister, Lanie, were teens. Their seventeen-year-old next-door neighbor, Warren Cave, was convicted of the crime, based mainly on Lanie's testimony that she saw Warren shoot her father. Now, twelve years later, Chuck's case is being featured on a new podcast, called RECONSIDERED (think SERIAL), featuring crime reporter Poppy Parnell. Poppy has unearthed the case at the behest of Warren's mother, Melanie, who claims he's innocent. Suddenly, everyone in America is talking about the Buhrman family. For Josie--who has changed her last name and fled her home state of Illinois--this is particularly disturbing, since she's never told her boyfriend, Caleb, about her family. Josie and Lanie are estranged, their mother lives in a cult in California, and she only has sporadic contact with her family through her Aunt A and cousin Ellen. However, when Ellen calls with the news that Josie's mom has passed away, she realizes she needs to return to Illinois and face her demons. And the fact that perhaps Warren isn't her father's killer.

This was a compelling first novel that definitely kept me reading. It offers an interesting commentary on our society's focus on these sorts of "lurid" family crimes and the media formats in which we rapidly digest them. However, as the novel points out, society gets sucked into true crime shows without realizing the impact the focus may have on those associated with said crime. For Josie, Lanie, and the entire Burhman family, RECONSIDERED roars through their life like a freight train. The novel features excerpts from the podcast itself, which is an incredibly effective format--interspersing the chapters with the podcast excerpts, reddit threads, and Twitter feed is powerful and really builds suspense. Further, Josie tells the story in the present, but often remembers back to the past, only adding to the tension.

For a while, thanks to the format and storyline, I thought this would be a 4-star for sure. I did not enjoy, however, how the book relies on one of my least favorite devices (well-known to those who read my reviews frequently): a relationship or plot built on shaky lies. So much of Josie and Caleb's relationship is just so, and it drove me crazy; it just seemed ridiculous that she wouldn't tell him the truth, and I was so frustrated. So, there's that. The plot also felt vaguely familiar at times--maybe I'm just reading too many thrillers anymore. But the whole blame the kid with a satanic background for a crime, sisters fighting too much over silly things--that all felt a bit done. Also, Lanie and Josie's fighting and drama was a tad much for me at times.

In the end, this one wasn't a shocker, but it was certainly compelling. It kept me reading the entire time: it's captivating and disturbing. I loved the format of the book, and I'm impressed that this is Barber's first--I look forward to her next novel. 3.5 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 08/01/2017.

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