Thursday, October 13, 2016

Book/Podcast Review: Adnan's Story by Rabia Chaundry

In early 2000, Adnan Syed was convicted and sentenced to life plus thirty years for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, a high school senior in Baltimore, Maryland. Syed has maintained his innocence, and Rabia Chaudry, a family friend, has always believed him. By 2013, after almost all appeals had been exhausted, Rabia contacted Sarah Koenig, a producer at This American Life, in hopes of finding a journalist who could shed light on Adnan’s story. In 2014, Koenig's investigation turned into Serial, a Peabody Award-winning podcast with more than 500 million international listeners

But Serial did not tell the whole story. In this compelling narrative, Rabia Chaudry presents new key evidence that she maintains dismantles the State's case: a potential new suspect, forensics indicating Hae was killed and kept somewhere for almost half a day, and documentation withheld by the State that destroys the cell phone evidence -- among many other points -- and she shows how fans of Serial joined a crowd-sourced investigation into a case riddled with errors and strange twists. Adnan's Story also shares Adnan’s life in prison, and weaves in his personal reflections, including never-before-seen letters. Chaudry, who is committed to exonerating Adnan, makes it clear that justice is yet to be achieved in this much examined case. 

Like millions of others, I listened to Sarah Koenig's podcast Serial. If you don't know, a podcast is like a radio show with a new episode that comes available usually once a week. You can download it to a computer, tablet, or mobile device to listen to it through iTunes, SoundCloud, and several other apps/websites. Though podcasts have been around for over a decade (coming into existence with the creation of the iPod), This American Life and Sarah Koenig's Serial investigation brought them into the forefront, creating a worldwide obsession trying to solve the murder of Hae Min Lee. 

And like much of the world, I became entranced by the story. When Emily (the Gnoming Librarian) said I should listen to it, one dreary, stormy evening home alone, I decided to give it a try. And I couldn't stop. In fact, I listened to the entire thing (12 episode, about 45 minutes each) in just a couple days. And well...OMG. Did he do it? Did he not do it? Who really killed her? I wondered after each episode. I don't want to give it away if you haven't listened to the podcast (and you should because OMG) but I still had a lot of unanswered questions after that 12th episode). 

So as one does (at least if one is a curious/nosy/must-know-everything librarian) I did research. And I found out that there was another podcast! What?! 

That's right. Rabia Chaundry, the lawyer/family friend of Adnan who brought the case to Sarah in the first place, created her own podcast with a team of lawyers after Serial ended. She was very thankful for all of the press and interest that Serial brought to Adnan's case, but she wanted justice for Adnan. She believes him to be innocent (as he has always claimed) and felt that Serial left a lot to be told. 

And I agree. There were so many holes left from the story Sarah told in Serial. So I listened. I listened to every episode of Rabia's Undisclosed podcast, and I learned a lot more. I became a little obsessed with it really. (And no, to that point I considered myself intrigued but not quite obsessed) I took notes. I drew maps, trying to ponder out the holes in the stories, what might have truly happened. I read news articles, watched videos, and soaked up everything I could find. 

Then I learned that Rabia was writing a book. And then I decided to look up the book and see if we could get it at the library. And then I discovered that we had just put the book on the shelf THAT DAY! So, I checked it out. And now I've read TWO adult nonfiction books this year, which if you know me, is impressive. I don't really read nonfiction books. Or adult books often.

And guys, I absorbed this book. I took in every detail. I read the diary pages, the maps, the evidence lists. What I love most about this book, is that it's all there. And of the documents and evidence and photos that they talk about on the podcasts - made accessible and viewable to help you sort out the details. 

I also love that Rabia tells it like it is. She holds little back and makes the storylines understandable. It's hard at times when listening to keep track of the stories (especially Jay's since he tells so many different versions), but having it in writing is really helpful. 

So I guess what I'm saying here is: Go listening to the podcasts (both Serial and Undisclosed) and then go find this book. Because it's good stuff. And you're going to want justice for both Adnan and Hae Min Lee too. 

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