Book Review: Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers

3521484

After recovering from the awesomeness of Courtney Summers’ writing in “All The Rage”, I naturally purchased all her books. While “This is Not a Test” wasn’t really my thing, I nevertheless had high expectations of “Cracked Up To Be”.

Our heroine, Parker Fadley, is a senior at an American private school. Former captain of the cheerleading squad, valedictorian candidate, girlfriend of the star basketball player – those are the labels that used to apply to Parker. But that’s not the case anymore. The young woman is skipping classes, showing up to school drunk, and has even been placed under the suicide watch at one point. Why is Parker pushing everyone away, doing this to herself? What could possibly have happened to make her like this? Her parents and former friends have no idea that Parker just wants to be left alone and is lashing out on everyone because of something that happened last summer. What did she do? And what does it have to do with her missing classmate?

The best thing about “Cracked Up to Be” was the main character, Parker. I can honestly say that she’s one of the realest protagonists I’ve come across this year. She’s unlikeable, flawed, snarky and very, very well-rounded. After she lives through a traumatic event which she believes she could’ve prevented, she becomes crippled with self-loathing, suicidal thoughts and starts showing up to school wasted. She becomes obsessed with wanting to disappear, but for some reason, her friends and the new kid Jake are determined to get in the way. She believes that she doesn’t deserve that, and indulges in self-destructive behaviour to keep them away. As I said, she’s not very likable, which made her all the more compelling and relatable.

I understand addictive personality and obsession with being perfect all too well. Fortunately, nothing as horrible as what happened in the book has ever happened to me, but I absolutely understood where Parker was coming from. Even at school and university, I was either stressed out because I wasn’t getting perfect grades, or because I didn’t feel like I was doing enough. I hear being an only child is a factor, and both Parker and I are sibling-less. Being an overachiever has always come naturally to me, and unfortunately, it hasn’t always ended well. Although Parker never says it, it’s quite clear she has addictive personality, and when a perfectionist with an addictive personality is trying to self-destruct, they usually accomplish it. Speaking from my own experience, I can honestly say that Parker didn’t have the support she needed. Her parents were wonderful people, but it’s quite hard to help someone in that situation. Especially when they don’t want any help. This is the reason why I’m in the minority and actually liked the ending of the book – it was exactly what Parker needed. And I’m very happy to add her to the list of the heroines that are incredibly relatable to me for the reasons I explained in this paragraph. Veronica Mars, Spencer Hastings, Kate Beckett, meet the newest member of “Kate’s favourites” club – Miss Parker Fadley.

Courtney Summers really knows how to write complex, real characters – I saw that quite vividly in “All the Rage” and, although I didn’t love the plot, “This is Not a Test” had a great cast of diverse, well-rounded personages. “Cracked Up to Be” is the same way – Parker Fadley is the real star, but the supporting cast is also very real. And the tears that filled my eyes on the train to work when a certain event happened in the last 1/4 of the book were very real too. “Cracked Up to Be” was a fantastic read, and I’m happy to rate it 8/10.

Favourite passage

“I never understood how I was supposed to work as a person or how I was supposed to work with other people. Something was really wrong with me, like I felt wrong all the time. I longed for some kind of symmetry, a balance. I chose perfection. Opposite of wrong. Right. Perfect. Good.

I get caught up in the outcomes. I convince myself they’re truths. No one will notice how wrong you are if everything you do ends up right. The rest becomes incidental. So incidental that, after a while, you forget. Maybe you are perfect. Good. It must be true. Who can argue with results? You’re not so wrong after all. So you buy into it and you go crazy maintaining it. Except it creeps up on you sometimes, that you’re not right. Imperfect. Bad. So you snap your fingers and it goes away. 

Until something you can’t ignore happens and you see it all over yourself”

Recommendations

You might like “Cracked Up to Be” if you liked:

“Veronica Mars”

The Walls Around Us” by Nova Ren Suma

“This is What I Want to Tell You” by Heather Duffy Stone

“Pretty Little Liars”

Have you guys read “Cracked Up to Be”? Are you fans of Courtney Summers? Do let me know!

Book Review: All the Rage by Courtney Summers

rage

Recommended by Manda of bookmad.

Warning: discussion of sexual assault

Romy Grey is a high school student in a small town where everybody hates her family. So when she accuses Kellan Turner, the son of a local Sheriff of raping her on a night out, nobody believes her and she is shunned by her peers and everybody in town. Nobody believes the girl who “lied” about the town’s golden boy. The only place where she can be somewhat safe from being the town pariah is the diner at the edge of town where she works, where nobody knows about what happened to her and she doesn’t have to endure the daily humiliation. However, when she and her fellow classmate, Penny, go missing one night after being last seen at the diner, the only people who want Romy back are her mother and stepfather – the rest of town wishes that she had never been found and that the resources of the police department had gone to finding the other missing girl – the girlfriend of Kellan’s brother Alek.

Having a family that is hated by the entire community is exhausting, but recovering from one of the most heinous things that can be done to a person is something else entirely. Romy wears her armour – red lipstick and blood red nails – to keep herself from falling apart completely. At school, she is constantly dehumanized and humiliated by her classmates. The Sheriff and other adults who own the town despise her. Her mum and stepdad do their best to support her but they don’t understand what is happening.

 

“All the Rage” is my first Courtney Summers book, and it most certainly won’t be the last. At first glance, it features elements I don’t normally like – present tense and first-person narrative, time jumps and girl-on-girl hate. However, Summers manages to take all these things and make them into a very gritty, very realistic work of art that leaves you crying and fuming long after you finished the book. It’s not a happy, fluffy book – it is a very real portrait and a painful, anger-inducing reminder of how rape culture and sexism (more on that below) are still bleeding through our fragile society. Summers’ genius use of present tense and Romy Grey’s first person perspective doesn’t sugarcoat things and makes the reader sympathise with our heroine more while experiencing a very real need to rip Kellan Turner into very little pieces and beat the crap out of his father and brother and the rest of Romy’s tormentors. The use of imagery also adds fuel to the anger you experience – for instance, Romy’s armour of red lipstick and red nail polish. Firstly, allow me to say that I absolutely love make up and love reading about it, whether it’s used as a plot device in a romance novel or as something else entirely, like in “All the Rage”. The detailed description of Romy carefully applying her lipstick and nail varnish adds to the overall haunting tone of the novel in such a way that makes you praise Summers’ writing genius and crave more and more. The fact that Romy’s colour of choice is red only adds more fuel to the fire, so to speak. I love that the cover design features that barely-there touch of red on Romy’s face and hands. In fact, this is one of those covers that is PERFECT for its book.

“Anytime something bad happens to a woman close to me, it’s how I think. I have a daughter” – Romy’s coworker about a missing girl.

“I hope it’s not a girl” – Romy when her love interest’s sister gives birth.

“Sometimes I wish I didn’t have a body”. 

Above, I listed the three quotes that are, in my opinion, the most powerful ones in the book. “All the Rage” is set after Romy’s assault – it’s not a He Said, She Said story – that occurs off-page and before the story takes place. This is a story of a girl who is driven to an insane amount of self-loathing by the body shaming, victim blaming and other terrible things her classmate put her through. It pains me to say, but millions of girls go through what Romy went through every day. Millions of parents (well, good ones anyway) go through what Holly, Romy’s coworker goes through every time a girl is murdered, assaulted or missing. And Romy knows that too. Her self-loathing is so strong that she actually hopes that her boyfriend’s sister’s newborn baby isn’t a girl. No woman or man should ever endure victim blaming – sexual assault is NEVER, NEVER, NEVER the victim’s fault.

It doesn’t matter how much alcohol they had in their system.

It doesn’t matter what they were wearing.

It doesn’t matter how well they knew the perpetrator.

It doesn’t matter how “smart”, “handsome” or “popular” the rapist is.

THE BLAME FOR VIOLATION OF A HUMAN BODY IN SUCH A DISGUSTING WAY LIES ONE HUNDRED PER CENT WITH THE BASTARD WHO COMMITTED THE ACT, NOT THE VICTIM.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It’s 2015, shouldn’t everyone know this by now?

Yes. Yes they should. Yet millions of women and men are raped every day, and the majority of rapists get away with it. The media attitudes don’t help, either (kudos for Summers for not shying away from calling it out on this!) – “We’re so eager to point fingers at this boy – but how much of the blame truly falls on him? It’s sort of inevitable, isn’t it? What happened?”. 

I do wish that this quote was a one-off comment only occurring in fiction. But we hear thousands of such comments every year – from the media, the Internet, from the people we know, and even from the law enforcement. I used to live in a place where it was quite common for female rape victims to be told something like: “You’re a girl – you’re supposed to be f*cked” by law enforcement professionals. It makes me sick.

This is why books like “All the Rage” are so important. I consider myself to be a very cynical person with very few romantic notions about people but I’m not yet jaded enough to believe that things can’t change. I’m a writer – I know about the power fiction can have on people. When Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak” first came out, it had a tremendous impact. My edition contains dozens of quotes from letters Anderson received from victims of sexual assault, so if hundreds of teenagers were brave enough to speak up, maybe there is hope yet.

No rating this time – I merely urge all of you to read this book at your earliest convenience.

 

Favourite quotes

“Anytime something bad happens to a woman close to me, it’s how I think. I have a daughter.”

“It’s amazing how bad you can make the truth sound. As long as you keep it partially recognizable when you spit it out, a crowd will eat it up without even thinking about how hard you chewed on it first.”

“Poison. It’s traveling my veins, turning my blood into something too sick to name. It works its way through me, finds my heart and then – every vital part of me turns off.”

 

Dreamcast

Romy Grey – Ashley Rickards

 

Recommendations

Personally, I believe that everybody should read this book. The two books and the TV series below are also very good at exploring themes like sexual assault and rape culture:

“Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson

“Easy” by Tammara Webber (I know it’s a romance novel but it’s one of the few that deals with sexual assault properly)

Veronica Mars – and I don’t just mean the TV series. After I finished “All the Rage”, I wanted to binge on Veronica Mars for the upteenth time. I suggest that you watch the series, then the movie, then read the two books. The latest book deals with rapes of sex workers really well. 

Have you read “All the Rage” or any other Courtney Summers books? What are your favourite feminist contemporaries? Please let me know!

Book Review: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

Image

Recommended by Kerry Winfrey of Hellogiggles

Kami Glass is a young half-Japanese student from a small English town called Sorry-in-the-Vale. She spends her time hanging out with her friend Angela who makes it her mission in life to find the World’s Best Napping Spot, and together, they run the school newspaper. Kami’s also got a best friend named Jared who really gets her. The only issue is that he is imaginary. He’s just a voice in her head whom she talked to since she was very young. Or so she thought. Kami can be said to be the Veronica Mars of England, so when the town’s founding family, the Lynburns, move back to their creepy mansion on the edge of town, she has no other choice but to figure out what’s going on with them. Why did they disappear in the first place and why does the whole town, including her own parents, seem to be scared of them? At first, nobody would tell her anything. But then, she meets one of the Lynburns in an elevator. He is tall, dark, and very handsome. There’s only one problem though – his name is Jared. Like you might expect, he is the Jared from her head (interesting band name?) A dream come true, right? Your imaginary friend who knows you better than anyone is actually a real walking and talking person. However, when this person is a member of the town’s most hated family who may or may not be trying to kill Kami and her friends, things get a little complicated. Kami’s penchant for detective work coupled with the connection to Jared may, on the one hand, be the key to uncovering the town’s dark secrets that are culminating in the form of horrific animal sacrifices and attempts on her friends’ lives. On the other hand, however, their connection may actually do more harm than good and destroy them both in the process…

At a first glance, this is your standard paranormal romance, which I am not normally too fond of. However, thanks to Brennan’s hilarious and brilliant characters, “Unspoken” is a wonderful work. First and foremost, it’s really funny. The technique of one-liners may have been employed a little too often, but it made me laugh really hard! To give you an example from a conversation between Kami and Angela:

“Your sould is like the souls of a thousand monkeys on crack, all smushed together. But enough about you. Show me to my napping sofa”

That’s another thing I loved about “Unspoken” – the friendships between Kami, Angela and their new friend Holly. The supporting characters were written just as well as Kami was and they didn’t conform to any stereotypes. Angela and Holly are, according to Kami, the most beautiful and popular girls in school, while Kami is more of an outsider, but neither of the three considers herself better than anybody else and has no problem trashing stereotypes about “popular girls” and “manic pixie dream girls who are not like other girls because they like to read and write”. This is why books like “Unspoken” are so important – girls today are under just as many pressures to fit in as ever, and not conforming to a certain “type” is not easy. Having someone to look up to, whether they are real or fictional, is one of the integral parts of growing up. The fact that the characters of the book are diverse just makes it better.

Re: “romance” part of the book – I have said before that love triangles and romances are not my favourite aspects of literature. However, Brennan handles the potential love triangle between Kami, Jared and his cousin Ash really well. The thing between Kami and Jared is very complicated and neither of them can be argued to have the ability to handle it. At that point in the book, I was waiting for some kind of a “I don’t care I love you we’ll get through this even though it’s emotionally unhealthy” monologue. You can imagine my relief when that didn’t happen. This is another reason why I really like Kami – she understands that glamourised unhealthy relationships are just that – unhealthy – and she wants no part of it. That, of course, did not take away the pleasure of reading about some very thick sexual tension between the imaginary friends! The one romance I am eager to read more about is Holly and Angela’s. I think that they work really well together! My rating of “Unspoken” is 7.5/10 and I can’t wait to purchase the next book in the series!

Favourite character:

I have enjoyed reading about them all (except maybe Jared because he got on my nerves on a couple of occasions), but Kami has to be a favourite of mine. I love ladies like Veronica Mars and Nancy Drew and Kami is an honorary member of their club of Lady Sleuths. I would actually love to see a Supernatural-type TV series with Kami, Angela, Holly and the Lynburn boys running around and solving paranormal crimes. (What do you mean “Buffy” already exists?!)

Character who gets the most development:

Again, Kami takes this spot. She has come very far from a girl who sometimes stared into space talking to herself and being afraid of fitting in. That girl was replaced by a young woman struggling with the concept of her imaginary friend coming to life and being deprived of her emotional privacy, who then grew into a person who… Well, read for yourself!

Favourite relationship:

Kami, Angela and Holly are the ladies who are coming to take a nap and kick the asses of magicians in your small town. And they are almost done with their naps.

Favourite quotes:

“You are a criminal. You broke my laws, in my town, and I am going to execute you. Step away from my sister“. Seriously, does that remind anyone of a certain Spaniard in a certain most romantic movie of all time?!

“Guys may disappoint, but she knew journalism would never let her down”

Dreamcast:

Kami Glass – Jamie Chung

Angela Montgomery – Janel Parrish

Holly Prescott – Jennifer Lawrence

Jared Lynburn – Jason Dohring (circa Veronica Mars)

Recommendations:

You would like “Unspoken” if you liked:

“Veronica Mars”

“Graceling” by Kristin Cashore

“Half Bad” by Sally Green