I have discovered recently that I grit my teeth when I read. It only happens when I'm really engaged in a story. But unfortunately, when it happens, it really hurts. My jaw ached for weeks after reading SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson.
So I have been holding my teeth carefully the past few days, yet my mouth is still killing me. The reason? CRACKED UP TO BE by Courtney Summers.
Parker Fadley used to be perfect. She was valedictorian, homecoming queen three years straight, captain of the cheerleading team. But all the time, she's been falling apart. Everything comes to a head one night and cracks Parker's world and persona for good. When the book begins we find her mean as can be, drinking vodka to sleep, and threatened with expulsion unless she attends all of her classes and completes all of her homework until graduation.
I read some reviewers who said Parker's meaness turned them off. But I saw it as a cover for her brokeness, and found some of these descriptions heartbreaking. Here's one of my favorites. It's Parker with Jake, the boy who likes her:
"We laugh. And then we realize we're laughing together and then we stop and then it gets awkward. I don't do awkward well, at least mutual awkwardness, so I snap my fingers to make the feeling go away.
"And then I can't stop.
"Even after Jake points it out.
"'That's really annoying,' he says.
"So I kick it up a notch just to bug him and I keep it up until my fingers start to hurt."
A shudder went down my spine when I realized she can't stop snapping. CRACKED UP TO BE unveils of the truth of what happened to Parker and her struggles, as a former perfectionist, to deal with it.
It actually reminded me quite a bit of SPEAK (for reasons other than my mouth hurting). Like SPEAK, CRACKED UP TO BE is about the horrors of high school and reveals the mystery of what happened at the end. But I found CRACKED UP TO BE surprisingly more complex, more real. SPEAK, for all its terror, has a clearer resolution. And SPEAK is about one horrific event, not so much all the games children play every day in school just to survive.
I'm also so impressed with Courtney Summers' skill: the agonizingly slow reveal of the mystery, the mean but sympathetic character, the chills down my spine. This is a book that will stay on my bookshelf a long time to be re-read and studied. This is only her first published book. Other than my terror that I will never be able to write this well, I can't wait for her next book and the next and the one after that. And for a fellow Blueboarder I have to say, congratulations Courtney!