Parker Fadley used to be perfect. Perfect looks, perfect boyfriend, perfect grades, perfect life. She was head cheerleader, she was popular, and she had it all. And then, something changed. Parker showed up to school drunk, failed her classes, broke up with her boyfriend, quit the cheerleading squad, neglected her appearance, alienated her friends–anything she could do to ruin her life, she did. She became self-destructive and hated and is now in danger of not graduating. 

People think it’s a plea for attention, but all Parker wants is to be left alone. With the way she’s acting, though, that’s impossible. People are demanding the truth, but Parker will never give it to them. Chris, her ex-boyfriend, won’t leave her alone, and neither will the new kid, Jake. She has weekly meetings with the guidance counselor. Her parents are afraid she’ll hurt herself irreversibly. She’s not the Parker anyone knew a year ago, and her deepest secret, the one everyone’s trying to pry out of her, is the why. But she can never, ever tell the truth about what happened. 

Cracked Up To Be is an excellent and intense debut novel. Courtney Summers mixes the present with mysterious flashbacks to the past, to the events leading up to Parker’s transformation, in order to keep the suspense, and it’s intriguing, but I wasn’t reading to find out what happened as much as I was reading for Parker. The author’s characterization of Parker is spot-on; her actions don’t always make sense, but that’s why she does make sense. It’s part of what makes her real. Real people don’t act like characters whose places in a story are neat and follow a consistent chain of events that makes logical sense. And characters who don’t make logical sense seem unrealistic. But in this novel, Courtney Summers is able to balance that perfectly with Parker, who makes sense even when she doesn’t. Parker’s voice, too, is fantastically well-done. It’s distinct and fits her personality well. You can see Parker’s downward spiral, her uncaring attitude and the way she lies to herself, and even as so many awful things happen, you’ll laugh at Parker’s wry, witty observations. You’ll laugh, and then you’ll want to cry, because this book is heartbreaking.  

Courtney Summers’ sharp, engaging prose combined with a dark, haunting story and excellent characterization makes this book one that you really shouldn’t miss. To me, it was character-driven but with a plot I couldn’t tear myself away from, too–the best kind of book. This is a captivating and powerful novel that is difficult to put down. 

Five out of six windows: