Cracked Up To Be
By Courtney Summers
“The sooner you make a mistake and learn to live with it, the better. You're not responsible for everything. You can't control the way things end up.”
I'm going to stray a little from my normally cohesive review format, to discuss this roller coaster ride of a book.
Some books - well, most books - have a way about them. They have this format where it's almost like the author has managed to zap themselves between the pages, luring you inside and whispering the words into your awaiting mind and holding your hand as they lead you along the story's path.
But Cracked Up to Be was different. The author was barely noticeable. I lost myself in the thoughts, mind and unravelling of a girl whose sole mission in life was to ruin it for herself - drowning her past of perfection and popularity in demons, delinquent behaviour and a flippancy that at first glance seems like a facade, but is really her. 100% broken and 100% knowledgeable of the fact.
Machiavellian principals have been utilised in books for years. The word 'Machiavellian' means cunning, scheming - the end justifying the means. Our main protagonist, Parker, tends to be a little Machiavellian in nature. Manipulating the sessions with her school counsellor, she is quite like the hero of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - you don't know whether she is insane or not. Is it an act? And why she is so satisfied by the distress she causes others? When they believe her lies? One moment she is arguing that, no, she didn't do such-and-such, but the next moment she is neither confirming nor denying the accusation - smirking and perfectly calm, perhaps snapping her fingers quickly...a bad habit of hers.
Parker is refreshingly, beautifully damaged. Courtney Summers' creation of a main character so devoid of the natural feelings we associate with human beings, is breathtaking. Parker's way of speaking in a blunt, cutting manner that somehow not only inflicts pain but sounds genuine - almost like she is sorry to be telling the truth and what she thinks, but she's going to anyway and screw you - is the hook that pulls you in.
I've read many books where the main protagonist is 'insane' or 'depressed'...maybe even 'suicidal'. But those attempts at recreating reality pale in comparison to this book. Parker is raw, real and her obsessive compulsive nature contains so many facets that there is no way of writing her off as fake, stereotypical and exaggerated.
Parker is the real deal.
Books - good books at least - manage to evoke a response from the readers, normally an emotional one. This book was unique in the way it made me laugh sadly. Not 'laughing and crying'. No. More like laughing with a twinge of sadness for Parker who is just so wrapped up in this game she plays, with herself and others, that she can't even find herself any longer.
The jokes were great. But Courtney Summers never lets you forget that this is not a story about a highschool girl with issues, who goes to prom, has boy issues and got drunk a few times. This is a story about a girl whose search - whose drive - for perfection drove her to the brink and when she fell, no one caught her. Instead, she picked herself up - broken, shattered and traumatised - and hid herself; letting the wounds scab over.
But the people around her wouldn't let the wounds scab. They would send her to therapy, ask questions, make her 'do' things, talk, go to school complete tests...the scabs get ripped off so many times the skin becomes raw. So she pushed them away. They come on more. Raw, in pain and drowning, the girl does the only thing she can.
She pretends the wounds don't exist.
She puts on a show. The show is so good that those around her are no longer certain that the wounds are there - they begin to think she's playing up, wanting attention. The girl is appeased. She is content. Now her wounds are left alone. Now she can lose herself without the fear of being found.
I know I'm ranting a little, but bear with me! This book was amazing. And the reason I get so excited about discussing it, is I have always been fascinated with authors who can so accurately see into the human mind - especially a mind in trauma. Courtney Summers' representation of Parker is spot on. Perfect down to her very last flaw. You don't see Parker as a 'character' - like you would, with say, Becky the snotty cheerleader who dislikes Parker intensely.
And this is Courtney's genius. You see the rest of these characters as silly, fake and two-dimensional. Exactly like Parker sees them.
You become immersed in Parker's mind. You become Parker. And when a book has the ability to do that, it needs to be recognised for the sheer effort that must have gone into it.
That said, I'm sure people could find flaws. Some of the plot bits are silly. Parker is petty - about her former position as head cheerleader - and her finger snapping is annoying, her tendencies aggravating. But this is what makes it real. Parkers is screwed up. So don't expect her ways, her mind, her words or her life to make any sense. Don't expect to read a touching YA fiction story where the girl meets a guy who loves her for who she really is and they get together, complication comes, but they overcome it and they love each other forever.
Because you will be sorely disappointed - both when reading the book, and in real life :)
But what this book teaches you above all else is that perfection is subjective.
We try so hard to find perfection. Every day. Whether it's how we look, how we talk, how someone views us or how well we do in something. No one - no one at all - can look you in the eye and tell you they don't. Because we all tend to find it sometimes. Even for a moment. A split second. Because that feeling we get when we catch a glimpse of that much-sought-after perfection is exhilarating! It really is. But is perfection worth the trauma we inflict on ourselves? The constant analysis of our days? Of ourselves? Why do we inflict that kind of torture on ourselves, searching for something we can never truly get fully because we are human and flawed.
This book teaches you that getting TRUE perfection is not easy and very, very hard - as well as not worth it. But it also teaches you, through Parker's journey, that you shouldn't do the opposite. In other words, turn your life into a ruin and treat everyone like crap because hey - perfection is out of reach and you can do what you want! Not at all. You should be the best person you can be without losing yourself. Take each day as it comes. And don't fret over what you can't change.
Cracked Up to Be was twisted, raw and eye-opening. I became good friends with Parker (well...as good a friends as anyone could possibly get with someone like her!). And I think her tale will touch others for years to come.