Thursday, January 8, 2009

Cracked Up to Be--Courtney Summers (Book Review)

It's clear that Cracked Up To Be is meant for the older YA reader when the f-bomb and the g-spot both make appearances in the dialogue on page one. It's also clear that Parker Fadley is a force to be reckoned with, and her high school cohorts are no match for her. And that it'll be a while before she lets us in on exactly what has gone terribly wrong in her life.

Parker's abrasive snarkiness pulled me right in to the story--I wanted to find out what made this girl tick (I'm not sure I ever did) and to know what had happened and how she'd cope with it. It kept me up later than I wanted to stay awake on Saturday night. I'd definitely recommend it for teens (did I mention, older teens?) and fans of YA lit.

That said, when I put the book down at the end, something nagged at me and it took me a few days' thought to figure it out.

If you're sensitive to potential spoilers, you might want to skip the next paragraph, though I'll try to avoid giving anything away.

OK, so: Parker as narrator leads the reader to believe that a drinking problem, fueled by a Mystery Event, led to her downfall at school. But I could never quite picture the downfall. Making herself stand out by showing up to class drunk? That wasn't the Parker I saw. As we gradually learn the details of the Mystery Event, we learn that she got drunk for the first time on that night. So. She gets drunk once (and doesn't particularly seem to enjoy it), Mystery Event traumatizes her, and she deals with that trauma by....drinking hard alcohol? Doesn't wash for me. Neither does the fact that her friends, who seem to have been partiers before the Mystery Event, all seem to have given up drinking at the same time that Parker took to it so heavily. Then there was the bottle of liquor in her locker, which felt more like it was handed to Parker by the author than by the character who gave it to her. In short, the drinking (apart from its role in that which happened on Mystery Event night) felt contrived. What do troubled teens do? Drink! When do they do it? Now!

Didn't keep me from appreciating the book, but it keeps me from recommending it to anyone who doesn't already love YA lit.

Summers didn't need the alcohol to show us how troubled Parker was, because she did so beautifully with Parker's other actions and with her narrative voice. Her other flaws were nicely intertwined with the plot. The secondary characters were multi-faceted--Summers did a particularly nice job with the boys--and the ending was perfectly imperfect. It kept me reading past my bedtime when I had to get up early the next morning, and then it came with me into the bathroom when I took my morning shower so I could keep reading while getting dressed. (Okay, that's not uncommon for me). It's not perfect, but it's a darned good read.

Courtney Summers lives in Canada and this is her debut novel.

Soundtrack: If She Knew What She Wants, The Bangles.

Also reviewed on Presenting Lenore.


  1. I've been reading a lot about this one, but might skip it, because I'm not big on YA. Thanks for your review.

  2. The ending was perfectly imperfect!

    I'm trying to figure out how I'd hold a book open and get dressed, that's talent!

  3. 1)Place open book on counter.
    2)Place full tube of toothpaste or hairbrush strategically across lower half of book to hold it open.
    3)Don item of clothing while reading.
    4)Move toothpaste or hairbrush to cover the text you've already read.
    5)Don next item of clothing while reading. Also works for reading while brushing teeth, putting contacts in, and brushing hair.

    Drives my husband nuts, unfortunately.

  4. Nice! I could never put in a contact (scared of my own eye) but that's truly inspiring! I think every time i try and get something to hold open a book it always flops closed!

  5. You make some excellent points about the drinking.

  6. Best first line of a review I've ever read! And the book sounds pretty good, too.

  7. Awesome review! I loved this book and had a hard time not reading straight through the night just to finish it.
    What I found so appealing were the characters - especially Parker - I appreciated a book that portrayed teens in a way that showed just how hard adolescence is.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the alcohol issue. Having dealt with alcoholism (both with a childhood friend and a family member) I didn't find it unusual for Parker to begin drinking heavily after just one drink, because this is supposedly very common in people with alcoholic tendencies. The bottle in her locker, however, felt unnecessary and annoying.
    Terrific book overall, I'll stop blabbing now :)

  8. Joanne, good point (about alcoholism kicking in after the very first time)--but I didn't perceive a craving for alcohol in Parker's narrative, so I wasn't thinking it was physical alcoholism. If that was supposed to be the case, maybe I needed more of the backstory covering the time period when she was drinking, rather than just the occasional reference to her behavior?

    I definitely agree with you that Parker is an awesome character!