[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]
This was quite a gripping story, that for once I felt like reading more slowly than I usually do, perhaps because I kept dreading the next “Sadie” chapter, not knowing where it would take me… or, rather, suspecting where it would, and not wanting to see whether I was right or not. Why I do that to myself, I have no idea.
The mixed format, alternating between Sadie’s first point of view and the script of a podcast about her and her sister Mattie, worked pretty well for me. I’m usually a good enough audience for those novels that play with different formats, and this one wasn’t of the kind that tries too hard or think it’s so much more clever than it really is. “The Girls” is reminiscent of a true crime narration, and Sadie’s parallel narration puts everything back into perspective every time, adding heart to the more neutral tone of the podcast (although West McCray, the podcast’s “narrator”, is fairly involved—in fact, I’d say his involvement is similar to what I was feeling: he, too, wants and doesn’t want to know what he’s going to find).
Sadie’s story is both touching and sad. Here’s a girl who doesn’t have much—her mother’s an addict, she stutters and people make fun of her because of that, she doesn’t have friends, or money, or prospects… the kind of person that, too often, no one would really care about, because she’s not important enough, or was “looking for it”, or whatever similar tripe. She has a fierce love for her younger sister Mattie, and what happens to the latter devastates her to the point of taking her to the road in search of the truth.
In a way, the double narration is part of her life, too: while West keeps searching, there’s always that feeling that he’s not doing enough, not going fast enough, not digging deep enough, and you want to tell him “hurry up, we’re nearing the end of the book, find her before…”. After the abuse she’s suffered, you want someone to take care of her, not the way her surrogate grandmother did (Mae was her support as she was growing up), but as support in what she’s doing now, in her current odyssey as a girl become an adult much too soon, and who’s trying to right a wrong (and save other people) even if it means suffering so much herself. Because Sadie could’ve given up any time, turned back any time, and she doesn’t: it’s not only about Mattie, but about the others, too.
Conclusion: A slow read for me, as it was kind of painful and I kept dreading turning the page… but that’s also what made it a good book. Scary, creepy, horrifying, for the worst monsters are the ones who look human… but definitely a good book.