This post is filled with spoilers. You’ve been warned.
I’ve always wanted to read a Courtney Summers book because of all the positive things I’ve heard on her writing, characters and the issues she tackles. I read This Is Not A Test and enjoyed it a lot because of the complicated female protagonist who didn’t fit into the cookie cutter mold of being “likable” nor should she for the crap she’s gone through. I decided to read her two other books, Some Girls Are and Cracked Up To Be, for Sexual Assault in Lit Week.
In both Some Girls Are and Cracked Up To Be, you have sexual assault occurring as part of the main plot (more evident in Some Girls Are and more subtle in Cracked Up Up To Be). What links these two books together is the theme of the bystander/witness. Those who failed to report rape that they’ve witnessed or are made aware of as seen with the characters of Kara (Some Girls Are) and Parker (Cracked Up To Be).
CRACKED UP TO BE:
When “Perfect” Parker Fadley starts drinking at school and failing her classes, all of St. Peter’s High goes on alert. How has the cheerleading captain, girlfriend of the most popular guy in school, consummate teacher’s pet, and future valedictorian fallen so far from grace?
Parker doesn’t want to talk about it. She’d just like to be left alone, to disappear, to be ignored. But her parents have placed her on suicide watch and her conselors are demanding the truth. Worse, there’s a nice guy falling in love with her and he’s making her feel things again when she’d really rather not be feeling anything at all.
Nobody would have guessed she’d turn out like this. But nobody knows the truth.
Something horrible has happened, and it just might be her fault.
In Cracked Up To Be, Parker goes from being the perfect student, girlfriend and daughter to drinking at school, dumping her boyfriend, stepping down as cheerleading captain and just wanting to be left alone. Throughout the book, readers are trying to figure out why this dramatic shift in Parker has happened while also getting subtle mentions of her best friend, Jessie, who’s been missing. We later find out that Parker, intoxicated, witnessed Jessie getting raped at a party right before going missing. She carries her secret right up until they find Jessie’s body months later when Parker finally admits it to Jessie’s boyfriend, Evan.
What makes this such an interesting story is its angle on sexual assault where it isn’t from the perspective of the individual who experienced the event first hand but the person who witnessed it. Parker doesn’t tell the police about the rape when Jessie first goes missing due to her shame but instead decides to carry the weight of it and pushing others away in order to protect them from herself. As readers, you can’t help BUT like Parker in the way that she’s written as a witty and amusing character which I think is a genius approach by Summers because Parker is trying to push people away including readers but we can’t help it. We want to hang out with her.
Parker also exhibits weird ticks like snapping her fingers constantly when experiencing anxiety or cutting the hair she was once so obsessed with brushing when Evan came back to school. The death of her Bailey marks a turning point for Parker especially given her attempts at trying to not get close to the dog only to have his death re-enforce this belief in her that she hurts people by association. As Kelly at Lost at Midnight Reviews mentions:
Parker falls apart. Completely. If we thought we was messed up in the beginning of the book, then it’s taken to another level now. Like I said before, it’s no longer about Parker wanting to stay away from people, it’s that she’s unable to get close to them. Even when she wants to, like with Jake, she can’t really bring herself to. Parker has officially lost control of her life. She no longer has comebacks to everything. She can no longer even finish her sentences half the time.
I don’t think this story could be told as effectively if Parker wasn’t someone who was obsessed with perfection only to have something terrible happen when she finally let loose. It wouldn’t be as gripping if she wasn’t on the pedestal of popularity in order to fall as fast and hard as she did and for everyone to notice. Summers takes a different approach to her novel, Some Girls Are, which I find equally interesting.
SOME GIRLS ARE
Climbing to the top of the social ladder is hard—falling from it is even harder. Regina Afton used to be a member of the Fearsome Fivesome, an all-girl clique both feared and revered by the students at Hallowell High… until vicious rumors about her and her best friend’s boyfriend start going around. Now Regina’s been “frozen out” and her ex-best friends are out for revenge. If Regina was guilty, it would be one thing, but the rumors are far from the terrifying truth and the bullying is getting more intense by the day. She takes solace in the company of Michael Hayden, a misfit with a tragic past who she herself used to bully. Friendship doesn’t come easily for these onetime enemies, and as Regina works hard to make amends for her past, she realizes Michael could be more than just a friend… if threats from the Fearsome Foursome don’t break them both first.
Tensions grow and the abuse worsens as the final days of senior year march toward an explosive conclusion in this dark new tale from the author of Cracked Up To Be
Regina gets sexually assaulted by her best friend’s boyfriend in the very first chapter of the book and her decision to go to Kara for comfort and advice on what she should do dictates the rest of the story. First off, Summers did a wonderful job at having the survivor of sexual assault be someone who isn’t inherently a good guy. By good guy, I obviously mean it in the ideal sense that we often encounter in YA lit and adult as well. Regina is part of a group of bullies in her school which makes us dislike her immediately (especially with what they do to Liz Cooper) but the questions readers should ask themselves and what Summers is asking of readers is, does that matter when she’s been sexually assaulted?
The answer should be no and I hope that others walk away thinking that too because no one deserves to be sexually assaulted. Period.
What I found interesting in reading this book was Kara. Kara represents what I feel is the general belief that what you get in life is what you deserve. Regina goes to her right after the sexual assault despite not being the greatest of friends (they hate each other) because she needs help and doesn’t for one minute think that Kara would be anything else but civil. Kara, unlike Parker, uses her position as an indirect witness to advise Regina into keeping silent about the assault only to turn around and tell her best friend, Anna, that she had consensually slept with Donnie.
I have never read such an evil character in my life.
Kara, of course, isn’t a one note character. She justifies this action and the horrible actions to come later (like when she locks Regina in a room with Donnie) by the fact that Regina was horrible to her in her role as a bully. This is a very different response to Parker’s role as a witness which is due to the relationships involved but the point of the matter is that the types of relationships shouldn’t matter. I also find it interesting that Anna, in a way, was also a witness to the assault since she was unconscious in the room when it took place. Anna, by the end of the book, starts to lose that image of being just a pawn in Kara’s revenge fantasy and Ciara says it best:
The scene ends with one of the most stunning lines of the book, in my opinion. Regina keeps trying to say how Anna is being played but Anna replies with such anger saying “Kara’s not that smart”. This lines makes me kind of question everything. Because it makes it seem like Anna knew this whole time that Kara was lying about Donnie’s attempted rape, but destroyed Regina anyways. As I was reading it again while writing this post though, I’m even questioning that. The way Anna says it so angrily, so desperately, makes me think she wants to believe in the lie. That maybe she knew but refuses to believe she could be played like that. I honestly don’t know anymore. Either way, it just proves how selfish and disgusting a person Anna is. Because even if she believe in the lie Kara told, she believed it because it benefited her.
These two books definitely give an interesting look at the third party in sexual assaults that I don’t normally see. Check out Ciara’s Courtney Summer’s Read-A-Long for great discussion posts. She delves way deeper into the many aspects of the books that I’d love to talk about.
A. A. Omer