Reviewed by Tori
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 confidant, 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 her Midwestern hometown where she must confront the demons from her past—and the lies on which she has staked her future. (Goodreads)
Are You Sleeping is a psychological thriller that uses social media and its intrusive nature to dissect a decade’s old murder and the characters who were affected by it. Two sisters are torn apart by the murder of their father, the abandonment of their mother, and a shocking betrayal, must come together and finally deal with the past. Barber flips back and forth between the podcasts and Josie as she struggles to understand what is happening and how to control the damage being created by it. Through Josie, we are guided down a long and twisting road of lies and secrets, manipulated by faulty recollections and the obligations of family.
While the mystery is a strong base the story is built on, I found the character dynamics far more prevalent. Josie is an intense neurotic character whose fear and anxiety are a tangible presence. She annoys, distracts, and wears you out as she tells her story, showing us the different ways people react to grief. Josie chooses to disappear. She leaves her hometown and heads to NYC to reinvent herself, leaving her past and family behind as she felt they left her. Now she is poised to lose it all. Her mother’s suicide sends her home and here the real Josie begins to emerge.
There is almost a sense of self-punishment involved as Josie simultaneously avoids the interview attempts of the extremely pushy Poppy Parnell (the investigator) while religiously listening to the podcasts and reading all the threads devoted to the podcast as the public begins to weigh in on the podcasts, asking their own questions and offering up advice and condemnation.
As the story plays out, Barber lets us form our own opinions about what happened as we follow along with the investigation and hear from all those involved from the police detectives to the man convicted of the murder itself. Barber does an excellent job of balancing the mystery with the internal conflict between Josie and her sister, Lanie. We learn the reasons behind their estrangement and watch their awkward attempts to move past it. We see the fragile yet unbreakable bonds that tie us to those we love regardless of how desperately we seek to escape them. Barber highlights the complicated dynamics that make up family, made more so by parental influence, flawed memories, and personal experiences.
As we head towards the finale and Barber begins to tie off all loose threads, the answers we have been seeking become crystal clear as the truth is finally revealed. I did have some issues. I wish Lanie and Caleb had evolved more beyond their preconceived roles. Both were never able to fully grow beyond Josie’s shadow. Josie’s lies about her past and reluctance to come clean to Caleb was odd and I felt she dragged it out for all too long. Also, I found the narrative tended to repeat itself when expounding on Josie’s past.
Regardless, Are You Sleeping addresses the pervasiveness of social media and the harm it causes when it is used as judge and jury.