April Henry’s GIRL FORGOTTEN and the ethics of true crime podcasts
Like many people, my family watches and enjoy The Only Murder in the Building on Hulu. It is a show about three people who are accused of murder and decide to start a podcast to clear their name. Part of its appeal is that it taps into the current popularity of true crime podcasts that hold the attention of many. True crime podcasts tend to focus on unsolved crimes and there is some debate about the ethics of them as they can be exploitive of the victims. This discussion came to a head with the recent release of the film Dahmer on Netflix, as the family of Dahmer’s victims were not consulted nor were they given any financial support though the participants and producers of the film made a lot of money. As is true with a lot of entertainment, there is much to think about when it comes to the ethics of entertainment, and perhaps more so with podcasts in part because we are dealing with very real lives.
With the rise in popularity of podcasts, we’ve seen them make an appearance in YA books as well. Books like SADIE by Courtney Summers and THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD by
Tiffany D. Jackson both successfully incorporate podcasts into their storytelling. Sadie is the story of a young girl named Sadie who disappears and an all too true tale of childhood sexual abuse emerges as her disappearance is being investigated. In The Weight of Blood, the topic of racism and violence is examined through the lens of a podcast in a tale based loosely on Stephen King’s Carrie. Both utilize the podcast format in excellent ways.
I recently read April Henry’s GIRL FORGOTTEN and found that it is an excellent addition into the podcast in YA list. In this story, a senior is tasked with a year long senior project and she decided to start a podcast to investigate the unsolved murder of a girl from her school 10 years earlier. In addition to being a really engaging murder mystery, Henry has the main character, her teachers, her parents (both lawyers) and the listeners wrestle with the ethical implications of doing a true crime podcast. Some of the murdered girls surviving family welcome the podcast, as they are still seeking answers. Others resent it for digging up old wounds. There are also very real legal questions brought up as the main character alleges that local community members may be responsible for the death and there are threats of lawsuits. Every step of the way Henry asks readers to think thoughtfully about the implications of the podcast and how it uses a young girl’s murder and the community trauma for an outsiders gain.
Beyond those deep conversations, GIRL FORGOTTEN is a really engaging murder mystery. It tackles small town life, drugs, sex, friendship and more as it peels back the layers. I was actually a bit surprised as to who the final culprit was. And the final scenes with the reveal that take place during a live broadcast kept me on the edge of my seat. It did not disappoint on any level.
All in all, I found GIRL FORGOTTEN to be an engaging mystery that also wrestles with thoughtful questions about something that teens are enjoying, true crime podcasts, that they may not have given much thought to. Henry manages to capitalize on the true crime podcast trend while making us question whether or not she, and by extension we, have the right to do so. It’s pretty ingenious. I highly recommend this book.
Publishers’ Book Description:
Piper Gray starts a true-crime podcast investigating a seventeen-year-old cold case in this thrilling YA murder mystery by New York Times bestselling author April Henry.
Seventeen years ago, Layla Trello was murdered and her killer was never found. Enter true-crime fan Piper Gray, who is determined to reopen Layla’s case and get some answers. With the help of Jonas—who has a secret of his own—Piper starts a podcast investigating Layla’s murder. But as she digs deeper into the mysteries of the past, Piper begins receiving anonymous threats telling her to back off the investigation, or else. The killer is still out there, and Piper must uncover their identity before they silence her forever.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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