These days everyone is devouring true crime, with podcasts like Serial and recent Netflix documentary Making A Murderer the hot topic of conversations, Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber couldn’t have come at a better time. Barber does an amazing job of juggling back and forth in a novel that is at times a murder mystery, a look into a shattered families struggles, and glimpses of armchair conspiracy theories posted on Reddit and Twitter. Are You Sleeping is a perfect glimpse into a society obsessed with the tragedies of others, and the victims left in the wake.
The story centers around Josie Buhrman, a woman who has done everything to distance herself from her troubled family including a murdered father, a wayward twin sister and a mother who abandoned the family for a cult. When a woman starts the true crime podcast Reconsidered that delves into the case surrounding Josies murdered father, Josie finds her life upended by the sudden interest and is desperate to distance herself from the past she’s worked so hard to hide. When Josie’s mother passes away she’s forced to return to her small town and face her past and the family she’s tried so desperately to forget.
Are You Sleeping stuck with me long after I finished reading it, and I think the most jarring and upsetting parts of the book was the interspersed twitter conversations and Reddit threads discussing the case. They were often bookended by chapters of Josie struggling and grieving over her murdered father and the complete destruction of her family in the aftermath, so strangers urging the creator of the podcast to ” Get that bitch to talk” made for a juxtaposition that leaves you heartbroken for Josie. It reminds how easy it is to forget that there are real people behind the scenes of everyones favourite docudrama or true crime podcast.
As Josie reconnects with people in her past she starts doubting events she remembered so specifically, and as new episodes of Reconsidered are released and new interviews with witnesses start to shed doubt on what Josie considered the truth, she struggles to make sense of it all. Are You Sleeping is a richly packed story with no shortage of drama and intrigue. Josie’s troubled twin sister Lanie claims she saw who murdered their father all those years ago, but her credibility is under question. Josie’s doting boyfriend Caleb is completely in the dark about her past that she kept hidden all these years, but with the podcast becoming more and more popular Josie fears he will discover her secrets. The accused murderer maintains his innocence while his mother seems to show up wherever Josie is in the small town of Elm Park. Family secrets are dug up that reveal Josie’s father might not have been as innocent as previously thought. With each new episode of Reconsidered, Josie and the reader have to reconsider everything they thought they knew themselves.
The formatting of the story with chapters being broken up by podcast transcripts, Tweets, and Reddit threads dedicated to the Reconsidered podcast really made the novel stand out as something special. Each character in the story is beautifully realized and though at its heart Are You Sleeping is a murder mystery, its really something much more. A story about forgiveness and family love, and how we are a society obsessed with other peoples loss as entertainment. Are You Sleeping made me reconsider my own obsession over true crime entertainment, and I can’t wait to see what else Kathleen Barber has in store.
Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber is currently out on Simon & Schuster and is available on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.
We offer our most grateful thanks to Simon & Schuster for giving us the opportunity to read this wonderful novel.
You can find Rigby on twitter, playing Yakuza Kiwami and thinking about true crime.
Photos for this piece provided by OBG Photography.