Monday, March 27, 2017

Review of "Are You Sleeping" by Kathleen Barber

Josie Buhrman's father was shot and killed 13 years ago, and Warren Cave - the goth teenage boy next door - was convicted of the crime. Afterwards, Josie's already troubled mother fell apart, and ran off to join a cult. To top things off, Josie's rebellious twin sister, Lanie, betrayed her in a very hurtful way. So at 18, Josie left a goodbye note for her beloved Aunt Amelia - with whom she'd been living - and left Elm Park, Illinois.

Josie backpacked and hitchhiked around the world, supported herself with low-paying food service jobs, and invented a fake history to tell new acquaintances. After years of roaming Josie met Caleb, a handsome international aid worker from New Zealand. They fell in love and eventually settled in New York, where Josie got a good job in a bookstore. Josie never told Caleb the truth about her past, which is about to come back and bite her in the butt.

A reporter named Poppy Parnell is making a podcast about the murder of Josie's dad, Chuck Buhrman. Furthermore, Parnell is questioning Warren Cave's guilt and looking at possible alternative suspects. The re-opening of the case generates a lot of interest among the general public, who proceed to talk and post comments about the case and everyone connected with it.

Josie is terribly anxious about Parnell's podcast, which reminds her of painful events. Additonally, the idea that Warren Cave might be innocent is anathema to her. After all, Josie's sister Lanie said she SAW Warren shoot her father. Who else could have committed the crime? Podcast groupies are ready with lots of suggestions, including Josie's mother, Warren's mother, Lanie, and others.

The podcast and the renewed publicity is apparently too much for Josie's mother, who commits suicide. As a result, Josie has to return to Elm Park, where she'll attend her mother's funeral, comfort her Aunt Amelia, and see her estranged sister Lanie. Caleb thinks Josie's mother is long dead, so she tells him it's her aunt's funeral, and convinces him to stay behind in New York.

Being back in Elm Park is very stressful for Josie. She's still furious with her sister; her cousin Ellen, a fashionista, is critical of her appearance; the viewing and funeral are difficult; and Caleb shows up and learns that Josie is big liar. Moreover, Poppy Parnell keeps trying to corner Josie, to get an interview for the podcast.

The story is told as a narrative interspersed with excerpts from the podcast, plus Tweets, Reddit threads, and comments from the public. This style works well for the book, and some of the 'messages' are very entertaining. (Sadly, it's a realistic portrayal of how insensitive people can be on social media.)

The basic plot - is Warren guilty? If not, who is? - is compelling. The main characters, though, are somewhat unsympathetic and/or unrealistic.

Josie, for one, is an irritating protagonist. She's whiny, overly emotional, and even after 10 years can't get past Lanie's 'betrayal' which - after all - wasn't that earth shattering. And Josie does some business with her hair - she has her luxuriant black tresses chopped into a bad pixie cut and dyed platinum.....then gets it fixed - which seems pointless. Also, in real life, men aren't as understanding or forgiving as Caleb.

As for Lanie, some of her obnoxious behavior as a teen - hanging with a bad crowd; using drugs; not showering; wearing dirty clothes; and so on - is understandable in the circumstances. However, one of Lanie's actions is a serious crime, and there are no appropriate consequences. I wondered what her family was thinking!

In a way Poppy Parnell is the most authentic character in the book. She's irritating but behaves like a real journalist - chasing people for comments; saying outrageous things for publicity; not caring about the harm she's doing to the families; and so on.

By the end of the book the truth about Chuck Buhrman's death emerges, which some readers may suss out long before the characters do.

Overall, this is an okay book that shows how 'true crime' stories can devastate the families involved.

Thanks to Netgalley, the author, and the publisher for a copy of the book.

Rating: 3 stars