Are You Sleeping? was inspired by Serial, a podcast I have never listened to. Talk radio, documentaries, and audio books – all of that stuff puts me to sleep almost instantly. I have read books by lawyers who have helped free innocent men who were wrongly convicted and the topic interests me. I am interested in those cold case volunteers who work to identify the John and Jane Does, but I am repulsed by openly encouraging internet mobocracy speculating about the lives of real people. I think of the armchair detectives who falsely accused some people of being the Boston Marathon bombers. So, I felt antagonistic to Polly Parnell, just as the Josie, the narrator of Are You Sleeping? does, though for far less personal reasons.
The story begins when Jose learns that her father’s murder has been taken up by a Serial like podcast called Reconsidered. The mother of the man convicted of murdering her father insists he is innocent. Josie is estranged from her family. She’s changed her last name and told the man she lives with and loves both her parents are dead and denies she has any siblings. However, she has a twin sister and her mother, perhaps set off by the podcast, hangs herself, drawing her home for the funeral and back, face-to-face with her sister whose existence she has denied for ten years.
Can she forgive her sister for betraying her? Why did her mother kill herself? Could the man serving time for her father’s murder be innocent? These are the questions that Josie must address to ever free herself from her past.
I enjoyed and was emotionally invested in Josie’s progress. I seldom find myself crying over a suspense novel, but the shattered memories and the fracture between Josie and her twin Lacey broke my heart. This is one of those stories with all sorts of good people who twist in the wind because they don’t talk to each other and because mental illness has such stigma, it is left undiagnosed and untreated.
Barber is excellent at telling just enough and letting readers figure things out. She never assumes we are just passively reading, counting on us to put things together. This makes for a satisfying and wholly engrossing mystery, one that is fair, that lets us figure it out, bit by bit.
Mixed with the narrative, there are transcripts from the podcast, adding to Josie’s pain and challenging her recollection. There are also comments from internet posters that were reckless and irresponsible as you might expect, though far less horrible and malicious as you would find in real life. Thankfully, they were only a small part of the book.
So, it’s a fair mystery with some surprises and emotionally involving without being manipulative. That’s a win in my book.
Are You Sleeping? will be released on August 1st. I received an e-galley from the publisher through NetGalley.