As far as comparing Summers’ other novels, Cracked Up to Be is probably most similar to Some Girls Are (though thankfully its plot doesn’t rely on Disappearing Parent Syndrome like the latter’s did). The protagonist in this book, Parker, is a snarky, nasty girl who’s main goal into life is to be left to her own devices. Her method of doing that? Alienate everyone she knows and drink like she’s stumbled on the last oasis in a desert. Parker’s gone from head cheerleader, most popular girl in school, to nothing, but it’s not enough for her. She won’t stop until everyone hates her and they ignore her. That’s what she wants.
The reason Parker’s behavior has taken such a self-destructive turn is kept mostly a secret until the end, revealed layer by layer in the form of flashbacks. I’m of the opinion that this stylistic choice wasn’t the best, since by the time the “big reveal” comes in the last few chapters, the reader already knows why Parker is the way she is, and it’s a bit underwhelming. (Also, by this time we’ve seen the pivotal scene play out in Parker’s memories at least five times, so it’s getting a bit redundant and overdone.)
Parker is probably the best of Summers’ four protagonists. She wasn’t stupid like Regina from Some Girls Are, and she wasn’t emotionally unavailable like Eddie and Sloane from Fall for Anything and This Is Not a Test. Rather, Parker’s issues have made her bitter and sarcastic and uninhibited. Parker’s dialogue is snappy and blunt, and even when she was being terrible to her former friends, it was hard not to laugh.
The big complaint I had with Cracked Up to Be was the way everything played out in the end. Obviously I can’t get into details because that would be a massive spoilery discussion. Basically, the story felt incomplete. I didn’t feel like Parker showed much growth as a person by the last page. In my opinion, she was essentially the same. The thing with realistic fiction is that (supposedly) the author presents a person with a problem, then shows how that character goes about dealing with that problem. Parker’s method of dealing with her problem was to be a jerk, and it’s only in the final two pages that she maybe shows a side of herself that isn’t a jerk. It wasn’t enough for me, though.
While Cracked Up to Be isn’t my favorite of Courtney Summers’ novels (that honor goes to Fall for Anything), this book is still extremely good, extremely unique, and well worth reading. Being inside Parker’s head is a different experience than one typically finds, and even if I didn’t like the way she told her story, Summers is still a powerful and talented writer.