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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

'Cracked up to be' by Courtney SUMMERS

From the BLURB:

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.

This is one of the best Young Adult novels I have ever read.
Parker is a prickly character, and I’m not sure why I liked her so much. She has a biting wit that she mostly turns on new head cheerleader, and former frenemy, Becky. Becky was a hanger-on to Parker’s popular posse, but has since stepped up to become ‘Parker Lite’. At one point Parker makes this dry observation about Becky;

I’ve never met a girl so content to be a growth.

Parker is a bitch, and I don’t know why I found her so endearing, but I did. So do most of the characters in the book – new boy Jake doesn’t understand why he likes her so much, but he does. Her ex-boyfriend is still in love with her; despite the fact that she stole $300 from him during the worst phase of her teenage rebellion melt down. Her parents are clinging to the hope that once a week meetings with the guidance counsellor will set their honour-role daughter back on track. Even Becky still begrudgingly turns to Parker for cheer advice. As a reader it’s difficult to understand why so many people are still holding out hope for Parker, despite her thorny behavior. Parker is just as curious. Through her narrative we learn that Parker meticulously planned her alienation from friends and family – and she’s a little shocked that it’s not yet working.

Granted, Parker doesn’t do anything too hellish, and her self-destructive behaviour occurred before the events of the book take place. As readers we are left in the wake of Parker’s failed suicide attempt, when she is determined to at least graduate from high school and leave it all behind.

Through Parker’s narrative we are also offered snatches of flash back to a night months ago that was the catalyst for Parker’s downward spiral, and the morose atmosphere of her High School.

This is Courtney Summers debut novel and the reason it’s such a good YA book is that it doesn’t talk down to its audience. Parker plays the school guidance counsellor like a violin, and Summers wisely refrains from writing any scenes that have such bandaids work miracles on Parker’s damaged psyche. And she is damaged; readers will deduce this much from Parker’s subtle narrative slip-up’s and character mannerisms. While it may be easy enough for readers to discern Parker’s problems, the brilliance is that Parker herself is forcefully unaware. This makes for fascinating reading as we watch scenes of Parker’s manifesting neurosis and witness characters around her start to pick up on her problems.

Summers also writes very successful flash back scenes. Sometime the ‘flash back’ can be a contrived piece of lazy writing, but Summers puts it to good use, letting it play like a rewind button. Small triggers set off the same memory for Parker, and she replays said memory again and again… gradually lengthening the scenes as she comes closer and closer to an unknown precipice.

This book can perhaps be best summed up in a question Jake poses to Parker during one of their reluctant heart-to-heart’s;

“How do you get to be an eighteen-year-old who’s done something so unimaginably horrible it can’t be fixed? I mean, seriously?”

Another reason this YA book is so good. Summers firmly grounds her plot and characters in reality. Be warned, there are no happy endings, no clean-cut resolutions and Parker’s secret is exactly as bad as she imagines it to be. That’s not to say there isn’t a moral backbone to this book, or a lesson to be learned. There is, Summers has just written it in such a way that’s not preachy, contrived or over-wrought.


1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a good story, but I think I would have a hard time reading it. I tend to pick up the mood of the book I'm reading.


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