Is it trivial or cathartic how life stories can be told in eight episodes? Through radios and televisions, personality traits are sifted down into a few words. People become characters: rich socialite, boy next door, high-school dropout, stoner, loner, and hero. Courtney Summers’ Sadie introduces a 19-year-old girl with a body “sharp enough to cut glass”, believing appearances “can be a beautiful deception” (Loc. 359). But, her life weaves into a podcast for all of America to construe into teen stereotypes. Sadie’s truth is conflicted, as it is told by one-time acquaintances, family members, and (presumed) friends introduced by the producer of a popularized podcast series in the story called “The Girls,”.
Following her tracks throughout Colorado, West McCray strives to uncover—for his listeners—why Sadie took off after the tragic murder of her little sister, Mattie. Amidst the twenty-first century’s reliance on the media, the dual-narrative structure of Courtney Summers’ Sadie demonstrates the division of truth and fiction in society’s depiction of the youth.
Presented in an articulate format, Summers creates a realistic podcast connoting the missing pieces that might be found in a ‘truthful’ narrative. “The Girls” podcast spurs to life in the voice of West McCray, who details the setting before putting forth the issue at hand. There is more talk of the lethargic small town, Cold Creek, before contrasting it to the heinous crime that took place there. McCray is leading listeners to believe the real-life story is something of television fantasy. Within this kind of narrative, there is the impression that teenagers draw in melancholy and drama by nature, kindling the flames of somber kismet. Soon the podcasts’ interviews give way to the idea that Sadie is a misfit; she’s unhinged and uneducated, bringing switchblades to the throats of random people for no good reason. By the end, she is still depicted as part of a stereotypical identity; “restless teenage girls, reckless teenage girls.” (Summers Loc. 225)
Youth in the media are often seen as destructive, alienating themselves from society despite everyone’s wishes for them to come back to reality. In reality, assumptions destroy teenagers. Generalizations only bring conflict, misunderstanding, unresolved problems. Summers beckons the reader to realize—alongside the producers of “The Girls”—that the interesting parts in the story are all the missing pieces, which only Sadie can reveal.
When Summers shifts into Sadie’s perspective, it’s an up-close and personal take where the reader can make time to sympathize with her and find out the truth of the matter. Passion fills her descriptions of her sister, showing how much Sadie cared for Mattie, strengthening the emotional impact. Summers presents Sadie as shrewd yet so full of love for her sister’s memory that she is willing to risk her life in an attempt to avenge Mattie. Both aspects of Sadie take hold of the reader, as her commentary blossoms into mantras such as: “better to ask forgiveness than permission.” (Summers Loc. 508) She’s bold, vivacious, coming alive through her own view of the events and her justification for going after Mattie’s murderer.
Though her voice catches on a stutter, it doesn’t sway the reader in the direction of assuming she’s less than. In fact, Sadie’s dialect gives insight into her inner rage against what ailments life has given. She fights for every word she speaks. I feel connected to her, as I sometimes find myself troubled when trying to speak. Sometimes the quiet ones have the most to say. There is a fiery soul behind the podcast’s languid interpretation of Sadie as a runaway, yearning to provide the details and emotional connection that the media often lacks. After a few chapters, the contrast between the podcast and Sadie’s perspective provides clarity as to how real-life differs from society’s impression(s) of the teenage mind.
Courtney Summers introduces Sadie as a courageous and feisty nineteen-year-old, subsequently after the first episode of a podcast makes her a means to an end. The unique structure of the novel, moving from podcast to Sadie’s first-person narrative, relays the devastating impact of society’s attempts to generalize teenagers.
The distortion in media’s coverage of youth is carried out subconsciously—through news networks—in gruff tones; geriatric men smoking cigars at a yacht club, deciding some things are too old to be interesting (while their wives could say the same about them). They’re detached—the teenagers they describe are stereotyped television characters pitched to listeners as high schoolers long overdue for a frappe at Starbucks. The media shouldn’t compile teens into neat categories and dismiss their narratives as if they mean nothing, their experiences crossing over and over without end. Every face and every story is unique, begging to be told. “The Girls” podcast aims to generalize for a mass audience, taking a strong message and letting it wither—all to make the story digestible. Sadie’s perspective is what salvages her character. Without it, readers would craft an image based on accusations and bootleg interviews conducted by a (biased) producer, who crosses Colorado in hopes of fame rather than justice for his podcast’s namesake. Media producers and newscasters need to take the focus off the tragedy and highlight the strength of a story's heroine. No more victim cliches.
Adults claim that the teenagers live outside reality while they renounce the realization; they confine America’s youth into a few syllables, a phrase or two. Perhaps a title that leads into eight episodes, followed by a concluding phrase at the end of a podcast—the voice dying away. Summers “can’t take another dead girl” (Loc. 4844) and maybe she won’t have to; if her readers can learn to listen.