‘I Hope You’re Listening’ by Tom Ryan is a thrilling YA story of abduction, guilt, and making amends

In “I Hope You’re Listening” by Tom Ryan, main character Dee Skinner has never been able to shake her guilt over being the kid who wasn’t abducted. When she was seven, she and her best friend Sibby were playing near their tree fort when Sibby was abducted. And although Dee was right there, she was left behind, helpless, watching as her best friend was carried away by two men, never to be seen again.

And we learn that’s why Dee started a true crime podcast, Radio Silent. She was determined to try to help others who had disappeared, and her podcast had led to some missing people being found. Much of the legwork is done by the LDA, or the Laptop Detective Agency, hordes of listeners who search the internet and local listeners who actually investigate. Dee still thinks about her friend Sibby and wonders if there were more she could have done.

We learn that Dee is kind of a loner. She has one good friend, Burke, with whom she’s been friends since she, Sibby and Burke used to hang out together. Burke is the only person in the whole world she has trusted with her secret about the podcast. To the world (and the podcast has become hugely popular), she is simply known as The Seeker, her voice disguised and her internet connection completely hidden by Burke so that no one will be able to discover who is behind the podcast.

When a local girl disappears almost ten years to the date of Sibby’s kidnapping, Dee’s interest in Sibby’s case is renewed. There is some evidence that the two disappearances are linked, and when someone close to them is accused of the crime, Dee must decide whether she will continue to be The Seeker who just reports on events but remains removed from the action, or whether she will take an active role in finding out what happened to Layla, the girl who just disappeared, and perhaps finally find out what happened to Sibby all those years ago.

I found myself staying up late — way too late — to finish this novel. While it starts a bit slowly, be prepared for a second half filled with action, clues, and some surprising twists. Ryan creates believable dialogue, people with emotions readers will identify with, and a mystery that we want to figure out. Dee is a gay teenager who has not really met anyone or had a girlfriend. We get the sense it makes her feel a bit lonely, and  Ryan provides additional depth to the story when a new family moves in across the street with a girl who might just fit that bill for Dee. This is a great choice for reluctant readers, and while it’s aimed at young adult readers, there’s really nothing in it that would make it inappropriate for middle grade readers as well.

Please note: This review is based on the advanced reader’s copy provided by Albert Whitman & Co, the publisher, for review purposes.