Cracked Up to Be
by Courtney Summers
Original Publication Date: December 23, 2008
Length: 214 pages
Obtained Via: Bought
Publisher: St. Martins Griffin
View at the Traffic light:
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.
Courtney Summers is so great at writing about the inner lives of teenage girls. Cracked Up to Be wasn’t a great book for me, but I still find myself appreciating a lot of what Summers does with the character of Parker. Main character Parker was the “perfect” girl–excellent grades, popular, with an attractive boyfriend–until Parker stopped caring after something bad happened at a party, and Parker thinks it’s her fault. That’s a pretty standard opening for Summers, but I do like that this book felt fresh and different than Some Girls Are, despite the similarities of “something bad happened a party and now this girl’s life has changed”.
Parker’s started drinking on school property, lashing out at her ex-boyfriend and classmates, and just generally does. not. care. A new boy, Jake, comes into the school and starts crushing on Parker, and she kind of toys with the idea of dating Jake, but at the same time she really does just want everyone to leave her alone. Even though Cracked Up to Be takes place in one timeline, there’s a good amount of flashbacks to the night of the party and what happened there.
I did have some issues with these flashbacks, because they grew repetitive. Each flashback starts the same one, but then the reader is given a little glimpse of more. It keeps building and building, but by the time the book ended I think I had read the opening of the flashback five or six times. Summers is a sharp writer, so I realize this was an intentional stylistic choice, but it didn’t work for me. It upset the pacing of the story and made me actually care less about what had happened because I began to grow bored. Other than that, the writing in Cracked Up to Be is excellent. On the whole, I enjoy prose that’s more on the poetic side, with an abundance of figurative(but not necessarily) flowery language and depth. Summers’ prose isn’t like that at all, but it’s sharp and witty and exceedingly well-done.
Cracked Up to Be lacked the emotional connection I craved, but I enjoyed reading Parker’s story. I think the lack of connection might have been because of Parker herself. It was challenging, though rewarding, to read about a character who is just so done, so apathetic about everything. There were moments when Parker was reflecting on her past perfectionism that really got to me, as someone who in some ways may have been a lot like Parker in high school. I didn’t have it all or acted the same way she did, but I still had that same drive to constantly measure up. I had to be in control all the time with answers for everything, so I really appreciated following her character arc for the most part. It made sense that a character as in-control as Parker would react the way she did when something happened at a party that was out of her control and felt like her fault.
Despite my appreciation for most of Parker’s journey, something about the pacing of Cracked Up to Be just felt so off to me. I think one reason is that this book is pretty short, even for a YA contemporary, which seems to be the shortest genre in young adult on average. It barely cracks 200 pages, and that’s not a lot of time to really delve deep into Parker’s life. It’s also hindered by the repeating flashbacks, which take up way more of those 214 pages than they need to. Characters should change over the course of a novel, either positively or negatively. They should experience some sort of growth, even if it’s a regression. Does Parker change? Technically, but the points where this happen just seem so off. Parker makes some bad choices, which I was expecting, and I don’t hold that against the book. However, until I finished, I thought I was reading one of those books that end with characters regressing and possibly becoming worse than before. Then, there was a switch and things were slightly more positive. It all felt pretty strange and left me with an unsettled feeling by the time I closed the book.
Cracked Up to Be had a lot going for it, but there were a good handful of issues that kept me from completely recommending this book. Is it a good book? Yes. Is it a great book? I don’t think so. Summers’ prose is excellent as are most of the character moments, but the pacing and ending really felt off to me, and it lacked an emotional depth at times. 3/5 cupcakes.