All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber

on September 4, 2017

Are You Sleeping
Kathleen Barber
Pan Macmillan AUS
2017, 323p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher}:

Josie Buhrman has spent the last ten years trying to escape her family’s reputation and with good reason. After her father’s murder thirteen years prior, her mother ran away to join a cult and her twin sister Lanie, once Josie’s closest friend and confidante, betrayed her in an unimaginable way. Now, Josie has finally put down roots in New York, settling into domestic life with her partner Caleb, and that’s where she intends to stay.

The only problem is that she has lied to Caleb about every detail of her past – starting with her last name.

When investigative reporter Poppy Parnell sets off a media firestorm with a mega-hit podcast that reopens the long-closed case of Josie’s father’s murder, Josie’s world begins to unravel. Meanwhile, the unexpected death of Josie’s long-absent mother forces her to return to the midwestern hometown where she must confront the demons from her past – and the lies on which she has staked her future.

I loved the idea of this novel and thought the blurb sounded fascinating. In this day and age of all encompassing social media, it’s hard to hide yourself away the way that Josie has tried to do. She’s changed her name and after travelling the world, has settled in New York working at a bookstore. She has a partner that she met overseas, an aid worker named Caleb, who is from New Zealand. Caleb knows nothing of Josie’s past and therefore when Josie hears of both Poppy Parnell’s podcast and also her mother’s death, they’re not things she can confide in Caleb about.

There were things I enjoyed and things I didn’t. I liked the idea of Josie escaping, of shedding that past victim identity and becoming someone else with no connection to tragic events. I think that it would be very hard to be “that kid whose dad was murdered” and to have that follow you everywhere you go and overshadow everything. Perhaps for Josie to be able to truly move on, she needed to leave that self behind – and she did that fully by pretending it hadn’t happened. When she met Caleb she invented a backstory for herself, believing that their relationship would be brief and when it turned out to be more serious, she stuck to her story. Her isolation from her family in New York allowed her to do this – until the surprise death of her mother, who joined a cult in California when Josie and her twin sister Lanie were teenagers.

What I didn’t like so much in this story was the entire Lanie debacle. I’ve read several books with estranged twin sisters and they all seem to follow exactly the same sort of pattern and this book is disappointingly similar. All the conflicts are the same, even the way in which one twin betrays the other is always the same! I knew how this part would play out almost as soon as the words “twin” and “betrayal” were mentioned and it was quite disheartening when it turned out as I expected. The character of Lanie was also quite predictable and nothing I haven’t come across before many times in stories involving twins. It seems that literature relies really heavily on this twin dynamic of one always being the troublesome one and the other not and the one that isn’t is always used, abused etc by the one that is but yet cannot truly sever that twin ‘bond’. Although Josie hasn’t seen or spoken to Lanie for years, the second they do see each other again, Josie can’t help but fall into old habits, even though she professes to not want anything to do with her sister. Although they’re at the funeral for their mother and perhaps it is a lesson that life can change suddenly and maybe it’s not worth holding a grudge….it just felt very repetitious and nothing that I hadn’t read before so many times with nothing new to add a fresh twist.

I did like the inclusion of the podcast – each new “installment” of the podcast is included at the beginning of some of the chapters and through that the reader gets to dig deep into the past. I’m not sure I bought that the podcast was such a big deal that it seemed everyone in America was listening to it and discussing it endlessly but it was a cool idea and it was a way for the reader to gain information about this crime that wasn’t through the eyes of Josie. The character of Poppy could’ve been really interesting but again reverted to a typical pushy journalist stereotype who intruded on private moments and turned up on doorsteps shoving microphones and cameras into people’s faces with a “how do you feel?” type question. I liked the style of the podcast, which tackled a different angle each episode and examined issues but Poppy was just such a unlikable character who really didn’t care what she stirred up as long as she got her hits and listens. Her dismissal of something was quite flippant and I think she probably needed to explore that with a more sympathetic eye (as well as look at her own contribution a bit more objectively).

I did enjoy the mystery element of this, the story of who did kill Josie and Lanie’s father and why was really interesting but I felt at times that this was overshadowed by some of the family drama which for me, didn’t add anything to the story and at times bogged it down a bit. I did like Josie and Caleb and was definitely hoping they’d be able to come through all the turmoil.

This was a promising debut with some really exciting and intriguing aspects. It’s just a shame that some elements of the story really didn’t work for me. I’d still be very interested in reading future books from Kathleen Barber though.


Book #149 of 2017

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