Title: Cracked Up to Be
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
When “Perfect” Parker Fadley starts drinking at school and failing her classes, all of St. Peter’s High goes on alert. How has the cheerleading captain, girlfriend of the most popular guy in school, consummate teacher’s pet, and future valedictorian fallen so far from grace?
Parker doesn’t want to talk about it. She’d just like to be left alone, to disappear, to be ignored. But her parents have placed her on suicide watch and her conselors are demanding the truth. Worse, there’s a nice guy falling in love with her and he’s making her feel things again when she’d really rather not be feeling anything at all.
Nobody would have guessed she’d turn out like this. But nobody knows the truth.
Something horrible has happened, and it just might be her fault.
I’ve liked all of Courtney Summers’ other books, even when they were tough to get through. I’d heard good things about this book, Summer’s debut, so I figured that this would be a tough but interesting book to read. Unfortunately, this book just did not work for me at all. I don’t think this is a bad book necessarily, but it had so many elements that frustrated and kind of disgusted me, so this is not a happy review. That being said, I’m still a fan of Summers and plan on checking out her future books, especially since this was only her first book.
But on to the complaining, but I seriously need to complain about this book, so don’t read if you don’t feel like reading a rant. I’m not going to use the new format I had in the last review and will have in the next one – I’m just going to talk about whatever pops into my head whenever it does.
First up: Parker. I knew going in that Parker wasn’t going to be the most likeable main character, and I swear that I don’t have to love a main character in order to be interested in her or his story. I mean, I’ve enjoyed all of Summers’ other books, as I’ve said, and they don’t have the most likeable protagonist either. So I really don’t have to be rooting for Parker at all times in order to be interested in her story. However, I do have to have some sympathy for her, and I just didn’t have any. Something bad happened to Parker before the book started, but we don’t know what (something for me to get into later in terms of annoyance), but we do know that she’s completely changed now. She’s not popular anymore – although she still only talks to the popular people? – and she’s basically a brat to everyone around her. There’s a point where she seems to be going out of her way to hate people rather than just ignoring them. I couldn’t sympathize with her at all because I was so frustrated with how badly she treated everyone around her. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a single person that she didn’t at least complain about in her head and was outwardly mean to at least once. Not even the dog was saved from her annoyance, and I feel like I was supposed to see her treatment of her dog as a sign that her shell was cracking or something, but I just saw it as another example of her being a brat and taking away any sympathy I might have had.
But I’ll move on to that secret now. Like many contemporary books that rely on drama surrounding an event that happened before the beginning of the book, the event is constantly alluded to and shows up in bits and pieces, but we’re over halfway through (an admittedly short book) before we finally get the whole story. In fact, it may have been the last fourth of the book before we’re told the truth, but I honestly can’t remember for sure. This is a thing that a lot of books use, but the more and more I read books using it, the more annoyed I get with it. It seems kind of lazy, like the author is relying on this drama rather than building up the tension through the actual story. You want to keep reading in order to find out what happened, but not necessarily because you like the story, but simply because you want to know what happened before the story even started and then you can check out. And, when an author uses this trick, they run the risk of building something up too much, which is what happened for me at least. I was expecting something huge, and while the traumatic event was pretty traumatic, I felt like Parker’s reaction didn’t work for me. I understand that everyone deals with everything in a different way and no one way is less valid than another, but that doesn’t change the fact that Parker’s reaction didn’t feel as genuine once I knew what she was reacting to. It just made me more frustrated with her, which is a shame. I feel bad for judging her in this way, but it was hard to keep that further preventing me from enjoying this book.
Like all of Summers’s books, the writing is sparse and minimal and sets the tone for the whole story. I like this about her – I think it’s a very distinctive writing style that tells me I’m reading a Courtney Summers book. So, I don’t really have any complaints about it, but it was a slight problem when I don’t really like any of the characters. Well, that’s not true – I feel like I could have really enjoyed some of the characters, but because of the sparse writing, I didn’t really get the chance to do that. I never really got a sense of who many of these characters are, and because I had to view them through the judgmental eyes of Parker, I never got the chance to really know them. I wanted to appreciate them and be interested, but I was given too little to really do that, which was a shortfall of the writing. If I had been more invested in the story, I don’t think this would have been a problem, but I just wasn’t, so it was much more obvious.
Now I’m going to talk about something that’s a minor spoiler, but if you’re the type of person who doesn’t like *things* happening to animals, you might want to hover over this spoiler to view it.
So, after this long rant, you’re probably wondering why I gave this book 2 stars rather than just one or even less. Well, for one thing, I’m reserving that one star rating for books that such horrible messages that they terrify me, books that I literally throw across the room rather than think about it, the books that make me want to scream and throw up and hide in the bookstore so no one else has to read them. Luckily, I’ve yet to come across a book like this, and so this book didn’t seem to deserve my personal idea of what constitutes a one star rating. I do think this book has some interesting elements and an honest look at the pressures of high school and such, but it just wasn’t the book for me at all. There are plenty of people who love this book, and I really hope that you get the chance to love it as well, because I hate not liking books.