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Interview: September 4, 2018

Courtney Summers, best known for her dark, gritty stories about tragic female characters, returns this fall with SADIE. SADIE tells the story of two sisters, one murdered far too young and the other hell-bent on revenge. Written half in the form of a podcast, SADIE tracks the journey of the eldest sister, Sadie, as she travels through small, poverty-stricken towns and glittering developments, hunting the man who she believes murdered her little sister. In addition to being hailed as one of 2018's Young Adult Buzz Books by BookExpo America, SADIE has earned a whopping four starred reviews and tons and tons of advance praise. In celebration of the release of SADIE, we spoke with Courtney about the phrase "girls go missing all the time," the concept of found families and what makes Sadie so special. Read on to learn all about this must-read book! Your book, SADIE, revolves around one particular phrase: Girls go missing all the time. Can you describe what this means? Why did you choose to write a book about this phenomenon?

Courtney Summers: One of the things SADIE explores is the way we consume violence against women and girls as a form of entertainment. When we perceive victims of violence as objects, things, we cultivate an idea of disposability; a suffering girl is only worth our time and attention for as long as she entertains us. “Girls go missing all the time,” is something West says initially to dismiss Sadie’s story because he can’t see the entertainment value in it. I really wanted to shine a light on what the personal consequences of that might be and what our responsibility to those missing girls is.

TRC: In your book, we watch Sadie’s life unfold in two ways: first through her own eyes as she packs up to leave her small Colorado town and also through a podcast called “The Girls,” which is focused on sharing Sadie’s story and ultimately, hopefully, finding her and bringing her home. Can you tell us a bit about this podcast format and why you elected to try this style?

CS: Once I realized the podcast gave me the perfect opportunity to unpack a lot of the questions driving SADIE, particularly with regards to what I touched on earlier --- how we consume violence against women as a form of entertainment, and the potential consequences --- I had to write it. It offered the perfect juxtaposition to Sadie’s own first person narrative.

TRC: When we meet Sadie, she is on the hunt for her sister’s killer, and she is literally ready to die in order to get revenge and some semblance of justice. The bond between Sadie and her sister is really unique, in that Sadie would give anything for Mattie, but Mattie often found herself resentful of Sadie…can you tell us why? What was their relationship like before Mattie was murdered?

CS: The foundation of Sadie and Mattie’s relationship is unconditional love. These two girls love each other with everything they have. That said, it was really important for me to portray how their dynamic was complicated by their circumstances. After their mother, Claire, abandons them, Sadie assumes the role of mother to Mattie, which is very different from that of a sister. I think it’s natural that Mattie, who idolizes their mother, would sometimes be resentful of that. Mattie and Sadie’s relationship was strained before Mattie was murdered due to many things beyond their control but the love they had for each other never wavered.

TRC: It is impossible to discuss Sadie and Mattie’s relationship without discussing their mother, Claire. In Claire, you’ve given readers a stark, but compassionate portrayal of addiction. Can you tell us about writing Claire, especially during the opioid crisis? How do her relationships with her daughters affect their paths?

CS: Claire is initially introduced to readers via other character’s recountings of her. These are characters who have been hurt by Claire’s addiction and their hurt prevents any objectivity; they dehumanize Claire to cope with the pain she’s caused them. It was important for me to not only portray their hurt, but to counter it by revealing Claire’s humanity over the course the novel and the ways in which she’s been hurt by the world around her. I wanted to show readers her struggles with addiction are not only complex, but impacted by a variety of outside factors. It’s a subject that deserves to be met with empathy.

Claire’s relationship with her daughters has a huge impact on Sadie and Mattie’s relationship and their individual actions throughout the novel. I feel like if Claire had received the help, compassion and understanding she needed from others at the time, Sadie would be a very different book.

TRC: One of my favorite characters, May Beth, is probably the closest thing the girls --- or at least Sadie --- have to a real mother. Interestingly, she is the one to bring the podcast into reality. Can you tell us a bit about May Beth? Is the concept of “found families” one you worked to bring into SADIE, or did it come naturally?

CS: I always wanted Sadie to have a source of stability and consistency in her life, and that was always May Beth. It was really important for me to portray the concept of found families in Sadie because I wanted to show teen readers they don’t owe their life, love or loyalty to people who don’t protect them or keep them safe just because they share blood. I wanted to show that it’s okay to find those connections elsewhere and that’s what May Beth represents.

TRC: Speaking of found families, as Sadie travels through Colorado, she sees many different types of communities --- tight, poverty-filled towns, shiny new developments, and everything in between. What was it like to write about these different places through Sadie’s eyes? Why did you choose to focus on small-town America as the setting for most of SADIE?

CS: I grew up in a small town so I’m always drawn to writing about them and SADIE reflects that. Sadie’s perceptions of the areas she finds herself were an essential part of developing her character. We don’t stay in Cold Creek, Colorado for too long and in revealing Sadie’s reactions to the towns and cities she finds herself in, I got to tell readers more about her own home, and how her upbringing there shaped the person she is.

TRC: There is also a theme throughout the book of how much we can really know others and what it means when our perceptions of people are incorrect. Can you talk about this and how you feel it impacts the story?

CS: Something I wanted to drive home with SADIE was that very question: how much can we ever know each other? I don’t think we can and there’s something truly haunting about that. And confronted by that knowledge, I hope it makes us consider who we are as individuals and the roles we play in our own stories and other people’s stories, and the choices we make and the impact they have.

TRC: Because you write about such traumatic events, your female characters can often come across as unlikeable. What does that mean for you? What do you ultimately hope readers, especially young women, will take away from these “unlikeable” girls?

CS: I don’t think of my female characters as particularly unlikeable, though I’ve accepted that people associate my work with unlikeable female characters. I write about traumatized, wounded personalities, girls who are fighting to survive in the face of what can be an incredibly cruel world, who sometimes do unlikable things because they’re human. I’ll always strive to portray girls in all their raw complexities because I want female readers to know they don’t have to be likeable at the expense of themselves, that they don’t have to be likeable to be seen, heard, valued and loved.

TRC: Of course, there would be no story without the storyteller, and in SADIE, we have West, the man behind the podcast. Can you describe his role as the host/interviewer of “The Girls”? How did you go about exposing his personal life to the audience? Has he had the same level of involvement with Sadie since your first draft?

CS: SADIE   began with West and the podcast, so he’s always been there as a major player. His role in the story embodies the question of how well we’re serving the narratives of people who are no longer around to tell their own stories, and what the personal cost of telling those stories might be. Revealing personal details about West was definitely a challenge because as host of the show, he’s there to tell a story --- not be one. I had to look for opportunities to reveal more about himself and his feelings via his reactions to other characters and what they were going through.

TRC: Over the past few weeks, SADIE has been brought to life in the form of a podcast --- congratulations! What has it been like watching SADIE transform? What has been your favorite part?

CS: Thank you! I’m absolutely obsessed with the podcast, which is pulled directly from the audiobook (which I’m also obsessed with). Macmillan Audio and Macmillan Podcasts hit it out of the park. It’s been surreal to have a story I wrote adapted to a different medium. It makes it feel completely brand new to me, almost like I had no part in writing it at all and that’s very exciting because as an author, you don’t often get to experience your own books as a reader would. This has brought me closer to what I imagine I put my own readers through! I don’t know that I could pick one favorite part, the whole process from start to finish has just been a joy for me. I’ve loved seeing Macmillan’s creative vision for the book take shape. I love how they brought Sadie so completely alive with their talent. I feel very lucky to have had this experience.