Book: “Are You Sleeping” by Kathleen Barber
Publishing Info: Gallery Books, August 2017
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description: Serial meets Ruth Ware’s In A Dark, Dark Wood in this inventive and twisty psychological thriller about a mega-hit podcast that reopens a murder case—and threatens to unravel the carefully constructed life of the victim’s daughter.
The only thing more dangerous than a lie…is the truth.
Josie Buhrman has spent the last ten years trying to escape her family’s reputation and with good reason. After her father’s murder thirteen years prior, her mother ran away to join a cult and her twin sister Lanie, once Josie’s closest friend and confidant, betrayed her in an unimaginable way. Now, Josie has finally put down roots in New York, settling into domestic life with her partner Caleb, and that’s where she intends to stay. The only problem is that she has lied to Caleb about every detail of her past—starting with her last name.
When investigative reporter Poppy Parnell sets off a media firestorm with a mega-hit podcast that reopens the long-closed case of Josie’s father’s murder, Josie’s world begins to unravel. Meanwhile, the unexpected death of Josie’s long-absent mother forces her to return to her Midwestern hometown where she must confront the demons from her past—and the lies on which she has staked her future.
Review: Like a lot of people, I was damn well obsessed with the podcast “Serial” when it aired it’s first season a few years ago. I had held off on listening to it for awhile, but then I gave in and was able to binge almost all of it over the course of a few days. As someone who has always been interested in true crime, the thought that someone may have gone to prison for a murder he didn’t commit, and that perhaps those around him may have known his innocence the whole time, I found the premise compelling. I know that some people found it ghoulish, as the podcast used the murder of Hae Min Lee as a framework for it’s investigation. Such grievances are raised in the novel “Are You Sleeping”, a debut from Kathleen Barber, and makes the reader look at it through the eyes of a murder victims family as old wounds are opened up for sensationalism and ‘entertainment’. I’ll admit I felt a little yucky with myself as I read this book. But I wasn’t just chastened; I was also sucked into the story of Josie, her twin sister Lanie, and the family that is still suffering from the fallout of the murder of the family patriarch.
The plot starts out common enough; Josie is living a happy life in New York with a genuinely good man named Caleb. But what Caleb doesn’t know is that Josie hasn’t told him about her past. Her father, Charles Berman, was shot in the head when she was a teenager, and her twin sister Lanie said that their Goth and rebellious neighbor Warren pulled the trigger. Shortly thereafter, their mother Erin ran off and joined a cult, and Josie split town as soon as she could and swore she’d never talk to her sister again, and never return. But then a popular podcast hosted by the duplicitous and fame hunger Poppy Parnell has started raising questions as to Warren’s guilt, and tragedy sweeps Josie back to her hometown, the secrets and lies she’s told her whole life starting to plague her. Pretty common fare for this kind of book. But what sets is aside from others I’ve read is that it makes use of the podcast format, as well as the social media frenzy that can come with it, to help frame the plot and the characters that we meet. It was great seeing twitter feeds, reddit posts, and transcripts from the episodes to get various pieces of the puzzle that we may not have otherwise seen, and it was kind of fun sifting through them like the reader, too, was an armchair detective. The pacing and tone was fast and tense from the starting gate, and I was basically hooked the moment that I sat down and committed to it, reading most of it in one day. The mystery itself wasn’t that hard to figure out, but it was definitely a fun ride to take even if I predicted the destination pretty early on.
That said, it wasn’t really doing much different or unique from this genre. While I definitely enjoyed it more than, say, “Every Last Lie” or “Into The Water”, it didn’t blow me away as some other thrillers this year have (“Everything You Want Me To Be”, anyone?). Josie wasn’t as large a mess as these kins of protagonists can be, which was incredibly refreshing, but Lanie was REALLY hard to take at times just because she very much WAS a huge, honking trainwreck. I’m relieved that the book wasn’t from her POV, because I’m pretty sure I couldn’t take that. None of the characters, however, really stood out as more than pretty standard players in this kind of book (the dutiful boyfriend, the ex who caused you pain, the uptight female relative). I had been hoping that there would be a little bit of experimentation with these tropes, but alas, it wasn’t to be.
But run of the mill characters and kind of easy to see ending aside, I really did have a fun time reading “Are You Sleeping”. Given that the holiday season is basically upon us and travel may be in some of your futures, I would definitely recommend this book for a long plane ride, a road trip, or just reading in the coziness of your home as the weather turns colder. But don’t let it shame you from listening to your favorite true crime podcast, okay?
Rating 7: An addictive mystery with a fun framework, but it isn’t really anything much that we haven’t seen before outside of said framework. A breezy read, maybe perfect for travel or a ready by a roaring fire.
“Are You Sleeping” is included on the Goodreads lists “Sister Mysteries”, and “There’s Something Dangerous About The Boredom of Teenage Girls”.
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