“The only thing more dangerous than a lie… is the truth.”
— Kathleen Barber, Are You Sleeping
Imagine leaving behind a huge chunk of your past in order to start fresh, to unburden yourself and to look forward rather than behind. This is the dream that every person chases after when they realize their lives have hit rock-bottom. But the past has other plans for them. Never does it truly disappear or leave you alone. It rather lurks around in the shadow until a golden opportunity arises. Are You Sleeping is Kathleen Barber’s debut thriller and already receives praise as being a harmonious mix between hit podcast Serial and best-selling author Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood. As inaccurate as these comparisons often end up being, this is one that definitely highlights this books strengths. Are You Sleeping is the story of Josie as one of her family’s tragedy is dragged out of the darkest corners of her life by investigative journalist Poppy Parrell through her new sensational podcast Reconsidered. The question that now haunts both Josie and the readers is: What will be brought to light after so many years of silence?
Told through the eyes of Josie, the story jumps back and forth between the past and present as we slowly learn about the protagonists life and what had made her scram from her family to begin anew in New York alongside a boyfriend who is completely oblivious to her past. While the transition isn’t explicit and sometimes requires a couple of lines before realizing that you’re back in the past or in the present, the exploration of both lives, in different timelines, help us enlighten ourselves on the downright questionable things that were peppered all over Josie’s life. Clues and traps were spread around, making us sometimes wonder if we should always take everything told for granted or take a step backwards and question the veracity of everything we read. Josie’s character also highlights some very impulsive or sometimes very absent behaviours throughout the book as she is slapped left and right by her past life. Every time she hopes to stay clear of it and wants to avoid this podcast at all cost, she finds herself compelled to learn more and succumb to her curiosity. What she once thought was the truth slowly becomes a fragile thing ready to shatter into a million pieces.
Are You Sleeping also incorporates original text formatting by simulating twitter conversations and reddit threads within the story. While at first I feared these would seem a bit too stereotypical, they turned out to play out quite well. In fact, I felt like they had a touch of humour within the limited amount of comments and replies that were showcased, instead of being entirely serious and drain out the realism behind these social media platforms. Of course, a book that receives comparisons to Serial surely doesn’t do so without having something related to podcasts somewhere in the book. Kathleen Barber does so by adding a couple of episodes of her podcasts in the form of transcript extracts that don’t take more than a couple of pages. These in fact serve as a catalyst to the stories mystery and pushes every character on the edge as all the concerned actors are thrown into the blender alongside their unwanted past history. Although the journalist’s credibility is always questioned, she remains an outside figure, just like the reader, and highlights her theories regarding what truly happened behind the murder that haunts the family. This easily lifts the reader’s task in coming up with hypothesis, but also forces us to think harder for what might be the finale. I think this was a bit counterproductive since I honestly thought it narrowed down the options for plot twists by assumed that any hypothesis that are written black on white wouldn’t be the endgame here.
Kathleen Barber’s debut thriller remains an excellent beginning to what seems to be a great writing career. Her ability to draw troubled characters offers us solid entertainment and her unique story-telling features (podcast, twitter and reddit) gives us a nice a little change of the typical thriller. Although it isn’t action-packed and as dark as you might want it, Are You Sleeping remains fun and captivating from start to finish. The author’s writing style is also really engaging and never hindered the reading experience. If you’re looking for something slightly different from your usual thriller, take a chance with Kathleen Barber. Her characters are original and every single one of them show us a face of themselves that would potentially indicate their culpability or troubled personalities. I’d definitely be curious to know if Kathleen Barber’s next books will continue with another mystery that Poppy will untangle through her podcast #Reconsidered.
THANK YOU TO SIMON & SCHUSTER CANADA FOR SENDING ME A COPY FOR REVIEW!
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MY OVERALL RATING: ★★★★☆/