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Review: Are You Sleeping

Are You Sleeping, the debut novel from Galesburg native Kathleen Barber, has all the components of a summer thriller — a murder, a mystery, a love story — cleverly wrapped together inside the decidedly modern frame of a podcast. The result is a page-turning thrill.

It’s 2015 and Josie (Jo) Buhrman has successfully rebuilt her life after her father’s murder 10 years ago. Now living in Brooklyn with her New Zealand boyfriend, Jo has cut all ties with her Illinois family and has no plans of looking back. But when her father becomes the focus of the popular podcast “Reconsidered,” which, like “Serial,” critically examines a murder case to bring new evidence to light, Jo’s estranged mother hangs herself and Jo must return to Illinois to deal with the aftermath.

Once home, old wounds — and suspicions — emerge, as Jo is forced to both confront her estranged family and unite with them against a common enemy: the aggressive “Reconsidered” host, who seeks to expose all their secrets.

Barber performs a clever sleight of hand throughout the novel, providing and muddling clues by moving between the narrative and transcripts of the podcast. There’s plenty of action throughout the novel, from the sudden early death of Jo’s mother to confrontations between Jo and her boyfriend to the complicated relationship between Jo and her twin sister, Lanie, who irreparably damaged their bond with a series of boneheaded teenage mistakes.

With so many plotlines and clever structural points to maintain, Barber struggles a bit to keep all the balls in the air. The book book ends with a deus ex machina turn, rushing the narrative to a neat conclusion.

But for a summer read and a debut work, it’s an entertaining ride from a promising new author.