Friday, November 06, 2009

Snarky and Sad

Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers
4Q 3P; Audience: S

A couple of months ago I was on the hold list for several books that hadn't come in yet (naturally, later about six of them came in at once!) and the books I wanted to read otherwise were all checked out. I was searching desperately for something captivating to read. I was working in the Teen Room when one of my teen regulars started talking about a book from my New Books display she'd been reading, saying it was really funny and very good. She couldn't take it out at the time, so I snagged it. Thanks for the recommendation, Adriana! It was exactly what I was looking for.

I laughed in the beginning, too. I enjoy a good bit of snark, and Parker Faraday is very, very good at snark. But as I read on, the more it became apparent that this is no light-hearted book, and Parker is not a happy girl. In fact, Parker has been on a downward spiral for months. She's gone from being the straight-A's captain of the cheerleading squad to flunking her classes and alienating all her friends. She's having panic attacks. She's come to school drunk and attempted suicide. What we don't know is why any of this happened. And that is only revealed little by little, mostly at times when Parker is desperately trying (and failing) not to remember.

Parker makes no effort to be a nice person. She gets a charge out of her ability to manipulate people. Crying and alluding to her suicide attempt are good ways to get her parents and guidance counselor to back off. She uses sarcasm, brutal honesty, and downright unkindness to push everyone close to her away. She sets her former boyfriend Chris up with Becky, the new captain of the cheerleading squad who sets her teeth on edge, then proceeds to rub Chris's obvious preference for her in Becky's face. When a new boy asks stops her to ask where the art room is, she tells him she can't stop to talk since she's late for class. Ten minutes later, he walks into the art room, only to find her sitting there waiting for him.

That new boy is Alex, and much to her chagrin, he isn't easy to push away. First of all, he's her partner on an art project. Secondly, he's intrigued by her. As hard as she tries to alienate him, he keeps coming back. Chris and Becky, too, refuse to go away. And the more they hang around, the harder it is for Parker to lie to herself, to forget what she's trying to forget. She's trying to hold it together long enough to graduate and get out of this town forever, but the memories and the guilt keep coming back.


I was very surprised at the turn this book took. The first few pages didn't prepare me for the guilt, aching sadness, and desperate fear that lie underneath Parker's facade. I think that's way Parker would want it, and it's a really effective way of mirroring what's going on with her.

The push-pull of Parker's relationship with Alex is very well done. When Parker decides that at some level she wants Alex in her life, she's very upfront with him: she kiss him and maybe even sleep with him, but she'll never be his girlfriend, and she'll never say she loves him. He's free to use her, too. But underneath it all, what she won't admit to herself is that she's relieved he won't go away. Alex's reactions to all of this are honest and believable. I hurt for him, but I had to admire his own inner strength as he seems to understand at some level Parker's need to use him as a punching bag.

While the actual events that lead up to Parker's crash and burn are fairly easy to guess at after the first few flashbacks, what I found truly fascinating was what got her into the situation in the first place. What we often look at as a positive personality trait can in fact be very destructive, a truth that's often not apparent until the situation reaches a crisis point. I think a lot of people (not just teens) will relate to the pressure Parker feels and the panic and anger that follow when she realizes that trying to live up to her own and everyone else's expectations just isn't possible. What follows may be extreme, but by the time I learned the whole truth, I was willing to follow wherever Summer led me.

This is not a light read. Alcohol plays a big role in Parker's downward spiral, and she's matter-of-fact about her sexual experiences. The emotions and sometimes the language are rough. Parker may not be forthcoming about what happened in the past, but she's not pulling her punches about how she sees things in the present. Older teens who like books with an edge will appreciate all of this. Younger readers and those who prefer a softer picture of adolescent life would probably prefer to look elsewhere. As for me, I'm looking forward to reading Summers's upcoming book, Some Girls Are.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Agree? Disagree? Something you'd like to say in response? Feedback is welcome! Just keep it on topic, please. And if you found one of my booktalks and used it, I'd love to know how it worked for you.