Book Review: Cracked Up to Be
By: Courtney Summers
Narrated By: Khristine Hvam
Published By: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: July 2011
Length: 6 hours, 19 minutes
Audience: Young Adult - Contemporary, Serious Issues
On the Writing & Story:
My first experience with Courtney Summers' writing was Some Girls Are - a book that I didn't expect to like, but I was totally swept away by Summers' writing and her ability to shed light on tough teen issues. I truly appreciate the authors who write within this arena; I wish that books like this one and Some Girls Are had existed for me when I was a teen. It would have made life a little easier knowing that I wasn't the only one dealing with issues - large and small. Although both books I have read by Summers tackle some pretty rough stuff, there is something about her books that doesn't leave me with that depressed, hopeless feeling when the book is done like so many other authors who write within this framework. Summers doesn't give readers an easy out by any means and her characters are horribly flawed people, but she does at least provide a tiny glimpse of a light at the end of the tunnel. I prefer knowing that no matter how messed up these characters are they still have a chance at redemption. Summers captures you from sentence one and reminds you that for most of us high school is far from the best days of our lives.
Cracked Up to Be is Summers' first novel, which one would never know from reading it. She writes in such a way that it seems like she's been doing this for ages and this book has come at the middle of a string of YA successes. She is a master at character creation and even though Parker, the main character in Cracked Up to Be, is entirely messed up on so many levels - you can't help but love her. She's smart and snarky - two qualities that I love to see in a female protagonist. In spite of such strong characteristics working in her favor, Parker is also broken and running away from a horrible secret that she harbors in her soul, the guilt is slowly eating away at her each day. Parker chooses to push away anyone who cares about her and try to deal with her feelings all on her own, but she realizes after a failed suicide attempt and the possibility of repeating her Senior year of high school, that perhaps she can't do everything alone.
I also loved the format of this book even though it frustrated me. The story bounces back and forth between the past and the present. Parker is telling you the story of her day to day, but it is interspersed with her flashbacks to a summer party - the event that changed Parker's life forever. As a reader, you know something horrible happens to Parker that night, but Summers is stingy with the details and it honestly took me the whole book to piece together that night. The tension I felt while reading wasn't frustrating enough to ruin the read for me, but it did create a delicious touch of anxiety. I wanted to know much sooner what had happened to Parker that night so I could understand her better, but I also appreciated that Summers made me work for it. This book is a must read for contemporary YA fans and those who appreciate well developed characters. I am looking forward to reading more of Courtney Summers' work in the future.
On the Audio:
Khristine did an amazing job with this one. Parker is a complicated girl and Khristine's voice was able to bring all those elements to life. My only major complaint was that sometimes it was confusing when the time shifts would occur since there was no advanced warning. Overall, this audiobook was well worth the listen as it added another dimension to Parker. Characters often seem more real to me in audiobooks. I suppose this is simply because I am listening to someone else's voice instead of the voice in my head.
One Last Gripe: I understand that Parker has some serious issues before the incident, but it was still really hard for me to understand her actions that night and why she kept the secret for so long. I was so angry with her.
My Favorite Things About This Book: Seeing the love that so many people had for Parker in spite of her behavior. I also loved the Parker vs. Becky showdowns - they cracked me up.
First Sentences: Imagine four years. Four years, two suicides, one death, one rape, two pregnancies (one abortion), three overdoses, countless drunken antics, pantsings, spilled food, theft, fights, broken limbs, turf wars - every day, a turf war - six months until graduation and no one gets a medal when they get out.
Favorite Character: Chris
Least Favorite Character: Becky
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.