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Monday, March 12, 2012

Cracked Up To Be Review

This review is part of C-Summers Week, a weeklong spotlight of Courtney Summers and her titles.

Perfect Parker Fadley isn’t so perfect anymore.  She’s quit the cheerleading squad, she’s dumped her perfect boyfriend, and she’s failing school.  Her parents are on a constant suicide watch and her counselors think she’s playing games…but what they don’t know, the real reason for this whole mess, isn’t something she can say out loud.  It isn’t even something she can say to herself.  A horrible thing has happened and it just might be her fault.  If she can just remove herself from everybody--be totally alone--then everything will be okay...The problem is, nobody will let her. 

 I'm a huge fan of contemporary fiction. And as I have started to read more young adult books, people constantly recommened Courtney Summers's books. I looked up the descriptions for the books online and read a few excerpts from Courtney's blog, decided I was interested, and began the long hunt for a copy of the book. 

I searched everywhere -- bookstores, libraries, and at online stores. Either all of Courtney's booms were checked out -- a telling sign -- or it was too expensive for me to buy the book. I was getting pretty frusturated. Finally I went to visit a large library a few hours from my house, a library I frequent fairly often enough, and decided to go in pursuit of Courtney Summers's books. AND VOILA! In the SUMM section of the library, there were two of Courtney's novels: her debut Cracked Up to Be and her third novel Fall for Anything . I was disappointed that I couldn't find Some Girls Are , Courtney's second and most highly acclaimed books, but I was glad I'd found two of her books and I went home happy. 

I wasn't disappointed. 

Parker, frankly, is a b*itch. She blows off her friends, hates her teachers, tries to harm herself. This change is sudden, though; she's always been Miss Perfect, nicknamed "Perfect Parker" Fadley, and now she's ruined herself with a danger of not graduating and has to constantly visit a counselor and the principal. A new boy, Jake, finds himself interested in her, but Parker simply pushes him away. She seems to be falling into a deeper and deeper spiral, and no one can understand why or how it happened. But there's a reason; Parker's holding a terrible secret -- something terrible has happened and it may be her fault. 

This kind of plot -- girl hiding terrible secret -- is one that I've seen before, but Summers manages to carefully twist and turn the story so that nothing ever becomes predictable. It's a interesting, very gritty ride. The ending was probably my favorite part of the entire story. Some stories can seem sugarocated, perfect endings that seem too perfect. She throws all those ideas out the window, ending up with a dark, gritty ending that makes perfect sense -- and is very realistic -- and still holds a faint glimmer of hope. I loved that, because it really drove home the fact that not everything is perfect, that the most realistic things aren't always the best. The secret revealed was interesting, as well, but I did wish that it would have been revealed earlier in the text, then there could have been more exploration of the aftermath/repurcussions of the secret being revealed. Still, a strong, gritty plot with a fantastic ending. 

Now, onto the characters. Parker is not.... likable. That's pretty much agreed upon by all readers of this book. You tend to dislike her, get mad at her because of her poor choices and how she treats the people around her, and at times I felt myself relating more to Jake and Parker's friends then our heroine. However, there is something that made me connect with her and made me finish the book. I did connect with her somehow, and I related to her problems and how she didn't know how to react -- even as I didn't agreewith how she acted. The other two main love interets were interesting. I liked Jake and Parker's relationship, how flawed and realistic it was, and how it paralleled to Parker and Chris's relationship. Becky was a character I didn't think I would sympathize with, but at the end I did sympathize with her motivations and insecurities. Really, my feelings on the characters could be summarized into this: Didn't think I'd sympathize with any of them, ended up sympathizing with them. 

Courtney Summers's writing is just what the back blurb says. Gritty, edgy, and intense. This isn't any kind of "fake edgy". No, no, no. She doesn't pull any punches. The characters talk about sex, take drugs, drink, and act like real teenagers. The writing is smooth and clear, parsed down so only the true, important thoughts shine through. I've read many reviews saying that the edginess of Summers' books is what makes them so interesting and unique, and I have to agree with that statement. Her book is edgy, interesting, and so intense I had to put it down a few times. She's definitely a master of the edgy contemporary. 

I know that there are plenty of reviews urging people to read Summers's books, but I will happily join that crowd. If you are interested in contemporary, gritty contemporary, and realistic books this is a definite must read, and it's easy to see why this won the Cyblis Award and why Summers has been so well acclaimed. 

Four point five stars. 

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