Review | Are You Sara? by S.C. Lalli

AreYouSaraA Sara and a Sarah leave a bar and get into their respective Lyfts. Sara realizes their error when her car drops her off in a posh neighbourhood miles away from the much humbler neighbourhood of her basement apartment. She makes the trek home on foot, only to find police cars in front of her apartment, and cops examining Sarah’s dead body.

Who killed Sarah? Worse, even though Sarah was white and Sara is first generation Indian-American, they share the same build and hair colour, and would be easy to mistake for the other in the dark. Was Sara, a law student whose side hustles to pay for tuition weren’t quite all above-board, the actual target?

Are You Sara? is a fast-paced, twisty, and entertaining thriller. As much as I like to think its premise is far-fetched, I’m afraid I find it all too easy to imagine. As if taking ride-shares wasn’t a risky enough venture for any woman, now we have to worry that getting into the wrong one could prove fatal! Lalli did a great job developing the characters of both Sara and Sarah. This results in it being really easy for us to imagine either woman being the target of the crime, but it also means that even Sarah, whom we barely get to know before she gets killed, feels like a real person, one whose death we can genuinely regret.

The novel also explores some of the complex issues that women, and women of colour, have to deal with. We see both Sara and Sarah dealing with sexism and male entitlement, and with having their friends dismiss valid concerns, and we see Sara dealing with racism as a Brown woman pursuing a prestigious career.

Sara in particular is really skilled at getting people to open up to her and do what she wants them to, and I absolutely love how she uses this ability to turn others’ racism and sexism on its head. There’s a particularly masterful scene where Sara tries to negotiate a loan with a white male bank employee about her age. She senses immediately that he’s both attracted to, and intimidated by, her, so she deliberately downplays her accomplishments and lets him ogle her chest. It’s not quite a fully triumphant scene, because the guy was gross and unprofessional, and Sara shouldn’t have had to put herself in that position just to pay for school. But it’s a kind of code-switching I, at least, am familiar with, and I bet other readers are too. And there’s a kind of sweet satisfaction in seeing the guy’s behaviour through Sara’s eyes, and how easily she plays him to respond as she needs him to in order to get that loan.

One, admittedly minor, snag with the book for me was that Sara’s whole “I’m not really a ‘good Indian girl'” confession seemed a lot more dramatic than her actual actions warranted. She didn’t lead the quiet life her family expected, but on the whole, even her shadiest actions didn’t turn out to be all that bad. There’s a moment near the end where she gives the reader a hint of her future plans, and the narrative tone gave major gleeful villain vibes, but really, her big plans weren’t at all shady or even all that shocking. Mostly, it felt like a straight-A student gleefully confessing about how she smoked one joint or cut one class, and part of me wished Lalli had had a bit more fun with the dark side Sara keeps telling us she has.

Another, also admittedly minor, snag is that I wish I’d gotten to know Sarah a bit more. The relationships within her friend group were interesting and felt realistic; I especially love how she was helping her best friend get alone time with her crush, and it’s not because Sarah believed in their compatibility. Rather, Sarah knew her best friend deserved better, and she wanted her friend to get this dude out of her system so she can finally move on. I found it a pretty rational and thoughtful approach to her friend’s crush, and actually a kinda mature (or cynical?) idea given their youth. Still, that kind of detail made her an intriguing character to me, and I wish we’d seen a bit more of her as a person outside of her relationships. I almost wish she’d survived the attack so we could follow both women through the aftermath. Which is a testament to how well Lalli writes characters, and hooks readers into their stories.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Are You Sara? It’s a page-turner, and I finished it in a single day, which is pretty significant considering how long it’s been taking me to read stuff these days. I highly recommend it!

+

Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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