To say I couldn’t put down Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers is definitely an understatement. In a little more than five hours, I had devoured the entire novel. I’m a fast reader, sure, but nothing like this — and not usually until two in the morning. On a work night. On the day I have five projects to complete.
But I just couldn’t help it.
High school senior and former popularity queen Parker Fadley is a young woman so obsessed with perfection it nearly destroys her. After one terrible night the previous summer, Parker is forced to reconcile with a decision she made that she believes affected the lives of so many others. Seen now as a “bad egg” by her school community and on constant suicide watch by her parents, friends and guidance counselor Ms. Grey, Parker must decide whether she will continue to try and seal everyone out — her ex-boyfriend Chris, her parents, her former friends — or try to allow healing and, in turn, love to filter in. The arrival of Jake, the new student from California, helps her to deal with her defense mechanisms and uncover the truth of what happened one delirious summer evening.
Quite honestly, this book was outstanding. I was hooked from the second I started reading a few nights ago, though I could only get about 10 pages in before bed. Last night when I picked it up again I devoured the entire novel in a few hours — I was up until two in the morning, unable to put it down. We figure out Parker’s story — basically why she’s fallen out of popularity, given up her post as head cheerleader and wanders around like an angry zombie, making frequent if unwanted trips to the guidance counselor — in bits and pieces, the past revealed through her filter at varying intervals. Parker is such a real, faceted, complicated but winning individual, and I absolutely loved her relationship (or lack thereof) with Chris, Becky and Jake. Though she protests loudly through the novel that she only wants to be left alone, we know that couldn’t be further from the truth. We all love her anyway.
Books set in high school can often dissolve into cliches or be riddled by stilted prose. Summers’s writing is succint, moving and deliberate. It doesn’t feel like there’s a word that out-of-place. As I went on the emotional journey of reconciliation with Parker, I felt like maybe I was reconciling something, too. The ending did catch me by surprise, but was wholly satisfying.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough — in fact, I can’t really think of anything I disliked about it. While it was definitely a dark tale with some disturbing revelations, everything about it was totally addictive. Hopefully first-time novelist Summers, who lives in Canada, will continue to produce such winning, emotionally evocative work.
Just a word of caution: this is classified as “young adult” but, like many YA books, it deals with many complex and often upsetting issues. I wouldn’t recommend passing it along to any younger teens — I would say 15 is a good starting place. Like Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, this novel will draw you in by telling the story in pieces, all of them eventually filtering together like a large, warped puzzle. But that puzzle is probably a little intense for younger readers.
5 out of 5!