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From School Library Journal
Grade 10 Up—Parker Fadley has it all-head cheerleader, honor roll student, Winter Ball Queen, perfect boyfriend, Chris. Then at a wild "school's out" party, she catches her friend Jessica's boyfriend kissing another girl and tells Jessica, who retaliates by hooking up with an older guy who crashed the party. The next day Jessica is missing, and Parker, suspecting that she could have done something to help her, nosedives into a downward spiral, drinking heavily, and attempting suicide in a motel room. All of this is revealed in flashback as Parker begins her senior year at her Catholic high school. She cuts class, goes to school drunk, ignores assignments, and goes out of her way to make everyone leave her alone. New guy Jake, intrigued by her self-destructive determination to be ostracized, persists in trying to get inside her head. The problem is that what's inside Parker's head is a fear she can't even admit to herself—that she knows what happened to Jessica and could have stopped it. Summers creates a gritty world of teenagers living on the edge, complete with explosive interactions and rocky relationships without getting mired in angst. Parker narrates the story, darkly fascinating in her turmoil as she slowly lets herself remember details from the drunken night of Jessica's disappearance. In her relationships with Jake, Chris, archrival Becky, her parents, and even her dog, Parker struggles with self-revulsion and a desperate need for love and acceptance. Marked by explicit language and frank sexuality, this compelling read is taut with tension.—Joyce Adams Burner, formerly at Hillcrest Library, Prairie Village, KS
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Plot: Plotwise, this book was a long the lines of Between by Jessica Warman. Trying to figure out what happened leading up to the current time. (Both girls were popular or former populars, too.) Parker gradually allows herself to recall more and more of the night her life started to go down hill. The plot was a little slow, which I didn't mind at all because even in the small scenes, something was always going on. I feel that the ending was rushed compared to how slowly the rest of the book moved. Within a few chapters you find out what really happened, they react and then it ends.
Characters: I loved Parker, she speaks my language: sarcasm. Although I'm not quite as gutsy to say some of the things she does. I still don't 100% understand why she just wanted to be left alone, but I really liked her character's back story and how she used to be "perfect" and now she's not. She's got this I-don't-a-crap-what-you-think-about-me attitude and says whatever comes to her mind. She can come off a bit rude when insisting that Jake likes her and Christopher is still in love with her.
Jake. Ah, he still likes Parker even though she hates his guts, or does she? I was disappointed they didn't get very far and I kept mentally hitting Parker for pushing him away. Maybe we'll get a sequel with more Parke? (Woo! for on-the-spot couple naming!)
Okay, so maybe it's true that Christopher is still in love with her. I don't see why they broke up, but I guess it was part of the becoming unperfect plan that Parker had in mind. I like him. If they had been together during the course of the book, I think they would have been a cute couple. Parke is so much better though. If it even exists.
Becky. Do I really need to waste time on her? Even if Parker tormented her a bit, okay a lot, I never really felt sorry for her. She was too much like a few of the attention seeking girls at my school I try to avoid.
Riley. I was really going to cry. The tears were ready to fall and I kept waiting for it to be fake. It totally crossed the line of things acceptable. Really though, Riley was just another character (even if he is a dog) that loved Parker and it's not really clear why.
Jess. I kept waiting for the story of her disappearance to be something really spectacular and different than a lot of other books, but it was pretty typical for a YA book.
Overall: I like it. I'll definitely be picking up a few more of Courtney Summers' books, but at the library; I probably won't by them. Though this book was pretty good, it was also pretty average.
A few weeks ago, I promptly swooned over Courtney Summers's novel This Is Not a Test and took it upon myself to acquire her three previous novels, and it just so happens I went from her fourth and most recent novel to her first. I can clearly see how much the author's writing ability has grown between Cracked Up to Be and This Is Not a Test, but the author's work was strong even at the beginning.
Parker cannot and should not be mistaken for a good person. She manipulates people, pushes them away whenever possible, lashes out at them to hide what she's really thinking and feeling, and she has done some terrible things. There are a lot of things Parker isn't, there's one thing she is that matters more than anything: human. Beneath all the sarcasm and sadness is a girl just like anyone else, and I connect with her on a certain level. Admittedly, the supporting and minor characters suffer and readers hardly know anything about them by the end of the novel. Parker's story is such a focus of the novel that everyone else loses out.
The length of the novel and what kind of novel it is come together to make Cracked Up to Be a quick read. It's short at 214 pages, but it's also character-driven and a little bit suspenseful as little pieces of what happened to Parker to make her go into such a steep downward spiral come to light over the course of those 214 pages. If it had been another forty or fifty pages longer, Parker's story would have suffered. The author's succinct prose keeps things short and maximize the novel's subtle power.
For the last few weeks, I've been feeling self-destructive myself. I spend far more time than is healthy thinking about how much I hate myself and wonder why I can't just wake up and feel good enough for myself like I could a few months ago. Just yesterday, a classmate of mine confessed that earlier in the year, he'd been feeling the exact same way I've been feeling, but he was getting better. I heard something snap in my head and I tore out of the classroom in tears. How did he manage to get out of that rut when no matter how hard I tried to climb out of the pit, I always manage to fall back to the very bottom? I thought.
Remember how I said earlier that I identified with Parker? My reaction to my classmate's confession might make you think this book made me break down in tears, but it didn't. Actually, I feel better than I did before I read the book, and that is exactly what I needed. Before, I felt certain Summers would become one of my favorite authors; now, she's a certified favorite author of mine.