In our last episode, I introduced you to the two girls at the center of this podcast, Mattie Southern and Sadie Hunter. Mattie was murdered, her body left just outside her hometown of Cold Creek, Colorado. Sadie is missing, her car found, abandoned, thousands of miles away, with all her personal belongings still inside it. The girls’ surrogate grandmother, May Beth Foster, has enlisted my help in finding Sadie and bringing her home.
Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water. But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meagre clues to find him.
With a switchblade, leftover cash, snacks she took, and a car she bought that she found on craigslist, Sadie goes out hunting the murderer and seeking not only Mattie’s truth but the truth overall. It’s wild, brutal, and scary. You’re reading about a 19-year-old risking her life for the sister taken away from her.
Mostly, my stutter is a constant. I know it better than any other part of myself, but when I’m tired, it can be as impossibly unpredictable as Mattie was when she was four and started playing hide-and-seek all over the neighborhood without ever telling anyone she’d begun the game.
When West McCray―a radio personality working on a segment about forgotten towns in America―overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast which is reprinted in every other chapter.
As the story unfolds, we get one chapter for the podcast, one other from Sadie’s point of view. With every chapter we see her life as it was. An alchoolic and mostly absent mother, a younger sister who turned rebellious and a father who had taken advantage of Mattie and then killed her and dumped the body. The dad was actually just one of the men their drunk mother attached herself to and he took advantage of the boozing to get closer to the girls and feed his paedo desires (and other’s too)
He would sit me at the table at night and have me memorize prayers to the utter delight of May Beth and Mattie was right to be afraid of the dark then because at night, he would come into my room and make me say them.
20-year-old Sadie is armed with a knife and on the hunt for this despicable human being. As she travels, she meets young people her age and as she muses over her live and other’s, she sees exactly how much she has lost. Not just a sister but a normal life.
I want to live my life on the internet. Everything is perfect there. I found Kendall Baker on a computer in a library in some forgettable town along the way. She’s beautiful. A girl with glow. Eighteen years old, but the kind of eighteen they write about in books. The kind of eighteen that lives faster than the speed of hurt. A girl who has no reason at all to believe she isn’t permanent. As I scrolled through her Instagram feed, it struck me that every curated, perfectly captured moment in her life would still look wonderful without all the filters she slaps on them.
I have never been kissed the way I want to be kissed and I have never been touched the way I want to be touched. I don’t often let myself think of it, but ever since I saw that video, I can’t seem to stop.
I wish this was a love story. A love story about lovers whose mouths meet like two puzzle pieces fitting perfectly into place, about the electric feeling of one person’s name on the other’s tongue because no one has ever spoken them out loud like that before. About people who spend the night together looking at the stars until entire constellations exist within them. Everyone is perfect in that indistinct way most characters are and every perfectly constructed scene in their fictional lives is somehow more real than anything you’ve known or lived. Love stories, romances, leave a person secure in the knowledge they’ll end Happily Ever After and who wouldn’t want a story like that? I wish this was a love story because I know how it goes in one like mine, where the only moments of reprieve are the spaces between its lines. But here’s the thing I tell myself to dull the sharp edges of everything that’s surely left to come: The worst has already happened.
I felt really sad when reading her story. I blamed her mother for not being there, for not caring enough about her children, for not fighting to give them a future but instead taking the one they had and throwing it out the window. I know Sadie’s story is not unique – there are loads of children in the foster system who have had similar experiences with neglectful parenting and downright abusive primary carers. My heart goes out to all of them.
For some people, the future ahead is opportunity. For others, it’s only time you haven’t met and where I lived, it was only time. You don’t waste your breath trying to protect it. You just try to survive it until one day, you don’t.
Sadie is one of many. And Mattie, her sister, has not made it out alive from her situation. She was killed by the person who was entrusted (by a very bad mother) to protect her.
I dream of small, broken bodies. Prone and hurt, catalogued and kept sacred in a small, dark spaces. The look in their eyes is one of utter incomprehension giving way to pain, to emptiness. Sometimes they stare right at me. Other times, the middle distance. There’s nothing I can do. It’s too late. I dream of Mattie’s face.
The book ends with Sadie finally finding the monster (her step-father). Going by a different name now, he is still performing the same modus operandi – seducing single mothers and then abusing their children in the mother’s absence. I wish Sadie would have brought in the authorities on him much like Jay did with the Coach. But instead she decides to face him alone, she receives a blow but manages to stab him.
when I turn Keith is standing right in front of me. I wish his darkness lived outside of him, because you have to know it’s there to see it. Like all real monsters, he hides in plain sight. He is tall, has always been tall. […] eyes. I listen to the sound of him breathing, remember the sound of him breathing late at night, I remember … I’m not small …
Keith dies a few days later in his new girlfriend’s house from the infected wound and it’s only when the guy running the podcast finds them she realises what great harm they had brushed with. Thankfully he had not yet had time to manipulate and take advantage of the woman’s little daughter.
I never got to meet Sadie Hunter, but I feel in some small though significant way, I’ve gotten to know her. Twenty years ago, she was born and placed in her mother’s arms, and six years after that her sister Mattie was placed in hers, and her whole world came alive. In Mattie, Sadie found a sense of purpose, a place to put her love. But love is complicated, it’s messy. It can inspire selflessness, selfishness, our greatest accomplishments and our hardest mistakes. It brings us together and it can just as easily drive us apart. It can drive us. When Sadie lost Mattie, it drove her to leave her home in Cold Creek, to take on the loneliness and pain of thousands of miles, just to find her little sister’s murderer and make the world right again, even, possibly, at the expense of herself. We may never know what, exactly, happened between Sadie and Jack, but I know what I want to believe. And in this aftermath, it’s Sadie’s love for Mattie that remains, to fill in those gaps until—if, when—Sadie returns to tells us in her own words.
The Good Bits
I think the sibling love in this was portrayed so realistically beautiful by Summers. A bond so loving and strong like the one Sadie had with Mattie was described so real as if it was a real-life story I was reading about. I was glad Sadie takes us on her journey, but I was also scared for her. Scared because I knew she knew she was scared, but she didn’t care, and you can’t hate her for what she did. Any older sibling who loved their younger sibling would do something similar no matter what the situation is, and I think that’s what Summer’s wants the readers to get from this.
The book is dark, dealing with paedophilia, child abuse and some pretty dark subjects. The mother, Claire, is portrayed like a true scumbag person – not actually doing anything, breaking into bouts of crying and relying on the podcaster to find her missing daughter and not lifting a finger to help. She stood by her “love” choices in the detriment of her children and prefers drinks over human interaction. The grandmother is a truly lovely woman but a bit overwhelmed by bringing up two girls – both strong-willed and determined.
The Bad Bits
The ending was confusing at best and left pretty much open. “We don’t really know what happened to this character you grew to love! Maybe she died, maybe she didn’t, maybe she dyed her hair blonde and lives in LA”. The story is also quite slow paced and from the 226 pages, the plot seems to come alive at page 150 or so.. page 196 is where Sadie gets face-to-face with the man she’s searching.