I was a senior in high school in 1999. So was Adnan Syed. One of us has been in prison since then.
Last year, Serial became a nationwide (worldwide?) obsession, as millions of listeners tuned into the podcast week after week to hear about the mysterious murder case. The story took listeners on a “Did he or didn’t he?” rollercoaster ride; One episode would leave you thinking “Oh wow, Adnan is totally innocent.”, but then the next would reveal some twist that made guilt seem like a possibility again.
Adnan’s Story takes a deep dive into the case, including information that wasn’t covered on Serial or follow-up podcasts like Undisclosed and Truth and Justice. It not only includes copies actual documents like Asia’s letters to Adnan and Hae’s handwritten diary entries, but also passages written by Adnan himself.
We heard from him in a few Serial interviews, but in a case that has been talked about and written about SO much, the reality of life behind bars has made hearing from the actual person we’re all talking about rare. It’s fascinating to finally hear about the events directly from the source, and I was definitely struck by his character – things like how focused he was on making sure his family felt reassured he was doing okay when they would visit him shortly after his arrest. When I think back to being 17, I’m pretty sure I would have looked forward to family visits as an opportunity to seek comfort and reassurance from them – not the other way around.
Author Rabia Chaudrey is a beautiful badass. She’s gone to bat for Adnan so fiercely for the past 17 years, even when hope seemed so dim. If you ever feel like your life is overwhelming, imagine being her with a full time legal career, a popular podcast that’s basically a second full time job, writing a book, raising two daughters, keeping up with the developments in Adnan’s case, and fighting against the current crazy political climate that includes an actual front runner for President who basically says your entire religion should be banned from the country. Plus, she’s a cat lady, so I’m instantly on her team.
The glorious Mr. Beans. I’m a fan of his mismatched socks.
If you’ve listened to Undisclosed, you’ll already be familiar with a lot of the info in the book, but hearing it from Rabia’s experience vs. the more factual viewpoint presented in the show kept it from feeling repetitive, and there was a lot of new info that I don’t remember hearing yet. (BTW, if you’re a Serial fan and haven’t listened to season 1 of Undisclosed yet, GO DO THAT. It blew my mind so many times, especially the “Jay’s Day” episode with the tapping.)
The only part of the book where I felt a little “yeah, I’ve heard this” was the play-by-play of Adnan’s recent PCH (post-conviction hearing), but that’s only because I listened to the bonus Undisclosed episodes that they put out during the hearing, which means I just recently listened to Rabia and her cohosts discuss it for multiple hours. If you’re reading the book without having listenined to those daily updates, or if I’d been reading it further in the future when it wasn’t so fresh in my memory, I’m sure it would be fascinating. (BTW, I’m pretty sure that even those totally unfamiliar with the story could follow this book, but I think that at least listening to Serial first would really enhance your enjoyment of it.) Everything else was totally engrossing, mostly because it’s a much more personal look at the story. We’ve heard the basic outline of events, but here’s how both the case and the crazy popularity of Serial actually affected the people involved.
Experts estimate that there are probably over a hundred thousand wrongfully convicted people imprisoned in the US right now. This is the story of one. Other stories like Making a Murderer and the 2nd season of Undisclosed have given us a peek into the cases of two other people who may be innocent, but more importantly, all of these have introduced a LOT of people to the problems with our criminal justice system. Awareness is the first step towards change.
In the spring of 1999, I graduated high school. Adnan recieved his diploma in prison. He’s still there. A new trial may soon mean freedom for him, but I can’t get over all of the years that have already passed. The crazy thing that I keep thinking about is that there’s basically no way this case would play out the same way if it happened to a teenager today. The changes in technology are obviously the biggest difference – most of our phones have GPS running all the time, Adnan and Jay would most likely be texting or FB messaging people instead of calling them so we’d have written records instead of speculation, and destroying the evidence of the last person to contact Hae would not be as easy as throwing her pager into a random dumpster. But there’s another level that Adnan’s Story really made me think about. At the time of Adnan’s arrest, there was a popular belief among classmates who didn’t know him well that the police would never arrest someone without really solid evidence. If the police say someone is guilty, they’re guilty, right? They would never lie, never take away the entire future of someone if they weren’t absolutely certain.
Freddie Gray. Tamir Rice. Eric Garner. Michael Brown.
If the past couple of years have taught us anything, it’s to question everything. We’ve grown into a culture that wants proof. We’ve become a society where people immediately whip out their phones to video tape an arrest, because they no longer trust that the events will be reported accurately. The public at large has not only become more informeda about, but started to actually care about our justice system.
With all of that in mind, if high schoolers now heard that one of their classmates was arrested for the murder of his girlfriend because a) the police say so and b) duh, that’s just like, what Pakistani guys DO, you guys, how many would actually believe it? How many would have a million questions instead?
This has totally veered away from a basic book review, but I feel ways about stuff, y’all.
Listen to Serial, then listen to Undisclosed, then read Adnan’s Story. Be surprised by how much you learn a lot about law along the way. Take it all in, come up with your own theories, draw your on conclusions. Ask questions.
(And then obviously head over to Life According to Steph and/or Jana Says, because it’s Show Us Your Books link-up day, and you totally want to see what everyone else has been reading this month, too!)
Thanks so much to St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a complimentary review copy of Adnan’s Story!