Are You Sleeping by Galesburg native Kathleen Barber is a compulsively readable psychological thriller. It started a little slow for me but by chapter 5 I was fully engrossed.
Narrator Josie Buhrman has changed her name and is trying to escape from her family history. Her professor father was murdered 13 years earlier. After the conviction of the teenager next door for the murder, Josie’s mother fled to join a cult and Josie suffered a terrible break with her twin sister.
But Josie can no longer escape because a journalist has brought the crime back into the news. A series of podcasts challenges the guilty verdict, suggests someone else might be to blame, and stirs up family secrets. The podcasts catch the fancy of the public and become a social media sensation. Josie leaves her home in New York to travel to her hometown in Illinois to attend a family funeral and finds herself in the middle of the controversy. Josie’s hometown, Elm Park, is a lot like Galesburg. It’s a small city in the Midwest anchored by a liberal arts college.
Are You Sleeping is not a perfect book but I rate it a solid four stars. I would never have guessed it was Barber’s first book. The narrative flows smoothly and the plot makes you want to keep reading so you can find out what happened. Josie rather foolishly thinks she can keep her past from her partner, to a point that strained credulity for me. However, Barber’s secondary characters are flawed, fleshed out, and believable. Josie's cousin Ellen is particularly both likable and unlikable and convincing. The ending didn’t stun but I was in doubt about who murdered the professor almost until the end.
The title was a good one – it had me singing Frère Jacques in my head, which kept me thinking about and wanting to get back to the book. The plot line about the podcasts and their popularity on social media was extremely believable; it made me wonder about other people whose lives have been damaged by sensational reporting.
Galesburg readers who enjoy psychological thrillers and mysteries will want to get their hands on a copy of Are You Sleeping. The book can be purchased at Stone Alley Books & Collectibles.
Author Kathleen Barber will be at the Galesburg Public Library on Thursday, September 14 at 7:00 pm to discuss, sell, and sign copies of her book. In addition, the Tuesday/Thursday Book Clubs will discuss Are You Sleeping on Tuesday, September 12 from 1:00-2:00 pm and Thursday, September 14, from 6:00-7:00 pm. All readers are welcome to join either discussion at the library.