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Cracked Up to Be

by Courtney Summers

Until her senior year of high school, Parker Fadley was teen royalty: cheerleading team captain, academic all-star, pretty, perfect. Now, she’s heading for social bottomfeeder status – and through the liberal use of icy insults, cruel manipulation, and a hack-job haircut, she has almost achieved it. So what’s eating her?

Debut author Courtney Summers follows the spiralling flight path of the queen bee, as she falls from perfect student to perfect mess. Into that mess strides Jake, the new kid at school, who has an annoying interest in saving Parker from herself. But there’s a secret driving her to self-loathing and possible self-destruction.

Summers’ writing is sparse, gritty, and taut, and laced with the raunchy speech of high school hallways. Both the mysterious cause of Parker’s breakdown and her gloriously erratic behaviour make for compelling reading, transforming this popularity-gone-awry premise into a page-turning drama with the tension of a whodunit. As the characters trot from private school to home to the mall, there is little sense of place (the setting is officially Corby, Connecticut, but could be Anywhere, USA), which makes the story seem thin at times. Yet at the heart of Summers’ story is people – or, more specifically, one person and her slightly unhinged mind. Summers extrapolates the inner lives of her teenagers with skill, digging deep into the tough stuff: destructive perfectionism, suicidal impulses, substance abuse and troubled relationships with sex.

Summers mixes a bitter cocktail. Yet the author’s surprising humour and ear for teen-speak make this dark tale compulsively readable. Despite Fadley’s sarcastic nastiness, ruthless verbal sparring, and pervasive pessimism – or perhaps because of it all – readers will find themselves cheering for the good girl gone bad.