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Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers

December 26, 2008  Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, Setting, The Craft   6 Comments

cutbThis book review is for writers, specifically novelists. For general book reviews on Courtney Summers’ debut novel Cracked Up to Be, seek ye to Google. This review is spoiler free; the actual book jacket says Parker, the main character, made a bad mistake. And yes she did.

Let me warn you right now, this review starts with a tangent.

Here we go!

There is an old maxim in advanced situational training; specifically training for self-defense, firearms, law enforcement training and what have you. This is training that deals with the totality of a situation, where the dynamic flow of multiple inputs meets the processor, your brain:

“If you’re not making any mistakes, you’re not learning anything.”

Sounds simple, does it not? Simplicity aside, this is an advanced training concept. Those who push the envelope and place themselves in situations where failure is not only likely but also expected, learn a great deal. This training sharpens the mind and teaches a person how to apply one lesson learned to other things, not just their particular area of study.

It is effective because it works. If you are not making any mistakes, you are not learning anything.

Summers’ book is a keen study in this area. The plot of her book is this: Parker was a perfectionist. She carefully built a world of her choosing. You know the type—wound so tight that they snap under their own drive or reality intrudes on these people and breaks them.

And Parker is so very broken. As the book relentlessly marches along, one comes to realize, even before the revelation of what caused Parker to snap, that the real world did not just come and bite her on the ass, but ripped out chunks of her heart.

I have a minor quibble with Cracked Up to Be, but nothing that deters my glowing recommendation of this book for any teen, adults, writers and certainly novelists going after the young adult audience. As I have stated before, if you want Fair and Balanced, go watch mainstream news. Here, I am going to gush. If I do not feel like gushing, I leave the book off my review list (which, by the way, has ten books in the queue).

I hate to say it, but I would not have picked up this novel at the bookstore. Why? Because it falls into the section of the bookstore that houses a lot of crap written for girls—novels specifically tailored to entice girls to buy them because girls are a great source of book buying dollars. What makes those books crap?

They are so dishonest. They are preachy, pretentious and filled with fake angst that makes me want to puke. Teens who have sex die, get an STD, pregnant or are cast out from society (or all four!). Boys written to be either shining examples of people who do not exist, or are passive-aggressive abusers. Stereotypes and stilted dialog. Someone dies just so the main character can feel what it is like to experience grief. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. All the consequences of every single action are there for the author to preach.

I certainly stopped buying those books, and now secretly wonder where the writers who grew up with Judy Blume went. There are exceptions, but I will assert these exceptions are not exceptional.

Until now. For Cracked Up to Be is awesomesauce.

The fact that Summers’ book is going to be smooshed in that prior mentioned section just pisses me off, but I have been on a Young Adult pissy rant for like ten years now, so that is just part of who I am. Cracked Up to Be is a book so honest its hurts. That is a primary reason I recommend this book for anyone writing for the young adult market. I felt vaguely uncomfortable reading it. Parker’s hidden pain was on the same level with her mistake, and with the first-person point-of-view narration you are sharing that understated pain. Despite the fact that Parker was a total bitch, who either needed to be slapped or fucked silly (I could not decide which), I held a deep sympathy for her because Summers wrote her so raw and honest—it was heartbreaking.

“If you’re not making any mistakes, you’re not learning anything.” Does Parker learn from her mistake? Ah such a good question, not to be address here! Go read the book.

More unapologetic gushing follows.

Oh oh, oh, the voicing! Summers writing voice through her minimalist prose is relentlessly good, relentless because that is what Cracked Up to Be is. The unrelenting pacing and tension built bit-by-bit was awesome. The voicing and the pacing alone is worthy of study.

The voicing played well in other areas. Summers took me back to high school. There were no over-done descriptions. She assumed the reader remembered (or, actually was in) high school and just went from there. The lack of over-done and forced setting descriptions was a breath of fresh air. You could say I am in love with her voicing.

Novelists should also take a meta look at Cracked Up to Be. I first heard about the novel via Janet Reid’s blog, which pointed to Courtney’s blog. Her whimsical, playful entries, sometimes even silly, cracked me up. Give me silly over pretentiousness any day! I became a regular reader. When she posted the first two chapters of Cracked Up to Be, man I was hooked. Doomed. I had to have the book. Thus, I arrived at Cracked Up to Be via word of mouth through the great and mighty Interwebs. Fascinating stuff.

That Cracked Up to Be is a debut novel is awe inspiring. Her agent should be doing a little dance right about now. I await her next novel with joyful anticipation. More please!

Finally, Cracked Up to Be is a morality tale, accomplished without preaching, forced circumstances, one-dimensional characters or through a false reality. How did Summers do that? Why, she simply told an entertaining tale with believable circumstances through the eyes of an all-too-real main character. She wrote the world as it is, not what she wished it to be. She told the truth.

Stick that in your Young Adult novel writing pipe and smoke it. Please.

6 comments on: Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers

  1. Anthony December 26, 2008 at 10:21 pm

    I thought those snippets from Dust ruled.

    But we all know about my pixie fetish.

  2. Alex Moore December 27, 2008 at 8:22 am

    Your tangents, as always, rock –> mostly because they provide an illustration that enhances your main point.

    Ugh. I’m always going to pay for that tangent comment, aren’t I?

    Anyway, you’ve almost convinced me to buy the book. Even if it’s just to put in my classroom library. (Still on fantasy kick; still not reading books dealing w/ rl.)

  3. Anthony December 27, 2008 at 8:30 am

    I afraid you’re going to have to read it, Alex. Parker is the ultimate in sarcastic comebacks. That alone is worth the price of admission.

  4. bjkeltz December 27, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    Sounds like a winning recommendation to me. Will find a copy.

  5. Pingback: MY EYES « Anthony Pacheco: Hack Writer

  6. nova January 10, 2009 at 7:35 am

    I have a writer’s crush on Courtney too — I loved “Cracked Up to Be,” and I love what you said about it. “Awesomesauce” — true fact.

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