I firmly believe that there are two types of mini-reviews. More commonly, there are the type that are written simply because not much can be said about the novel. It is merely okay, forgettable at best, but a review must be written, so let's make it a mini one. And then there are the mini-reviews that are born out of an inability to say anything. What is there to say that can possibly convey the feeling of the book itself? What more to say than "read it"? I like to this today's reviews are of the second variety.
Title: Cracked Up to Be
Author: Courtney Summers
Rating: 4 Stars
Ever since I read this novel, I've been judiciously punishing myself. I made a vow to not pick up another Courtney Summers book until I had tackled this review first and although I have sat down to type out this review on more than one occasion, the words never came. Even now, over two months since I last held this in my hands, I struggle to find the words to adequately express what an emotional wreck this book rendered me. Parker are her struggles are still as real and visceral to me today as they were two and a half months ago as my eyes read the words that conveyed her story to me. And, just as I was so many days previously, I am speechless.
Cracked Up to Be, is not a perfect Courtney Summers novel in the way This is Not a Test is. Although I find myself unprepared to talk about this novel, that doesn't prevent me from admitting that I found the ending to be too abrupt, too devoid of the emotional punch I was looking for that marked the last line of Summers latest book. And yet, Cracked Up to Be is just as strong, raw, and powerful. Parker, the protagonist of our tale, is as "unlikable" as heroines come. Not only does she exude snark, but she genuinely despises people and wants to be left alone. Parker is rude, she is cruel, she is as mean as the most despicable villains of legend. And yet, Courtney Summers makes us sympathize, empathize, and only want the best for her. Just like the majority of the characters in this novel who never give up on Parker, doing their best to break through her tough defenses, we become just as invested and curious about her sudden fall from fame, her unexpected and self-imposed wall.
It is Parker who makes Cracked Up to Be the successful novel it is. As the truth behind Parker's past slowly comes to light, the relationships with her parents and friends disintegrate and re-build only to fall apart, our hearts and brains are turned to mush and broken and stomped on and overturned again and again and again. While objectively Parker doesn't seem to be the type of protagonist we can relate to, we all have our bad days, our bad moments, and the times in our lives when we simply want to punish ourselves and reading Cracked Up to Be is a snarling reminder of the monster that lurks beneath the surface of us all. It is beautifully written and wonderfully rendered, so much so that I can only beg you to read it. Not for me, not for Parker, and not even for Courtney Summers, but for yourself. I sincerely doubt you'll regret it.
Title: The Lost Conspiracy
Author: Frances Hardinge
Rating: 4 Stars
It's difficult for me to imagine reading a Frances Hardinge novel as a young child. Although her books are marketed as being Middle Grade, I fervently wish I could travel to every library and bookstore and rip off that constricting label. If there is any author whose writing transcends all ages and successfully manages to write complex stories that are never dumbed down for a younger audience, it is Frances Hardinge. Although The Lost Conspiracy is not my favorite Hardinge novel - A Face Like Glass still has my heart (and the Kleptomancer refuses to give it back) - this fantasy adventure is just as heartfelt, moving, unique, compelling, and utterly original.
The Lost Conspiracy takes place on Gullstruck Island, colonized by outsiders years ago but still thriving with a village of original islanders known as the Lace. The Lace, however, are foreign and inspire fear in the hearts of the islanders and all those who don't understand their peaceful ways. Into this tribe is born Arilou, the only Lost to ever be born into a Lace tribe. The Lost are a rare group who can control their five senses, sending them away from their bodies to explore the island. Hathin, the type of girl who is easily overlooked, has been assigned with the task of caring for Arilou - a purpose she has devoted her entire life to. When a mysterious tragedy is blamed upon the Lace, it is up to Hathin to take Arilou to safety and maybe, just maybe, find it within herself to emerge from the shadows she has lived in and find her true destiny.
Frankly speaking, I struggled quite a bit with The Lost Conspiracy. It's first few chapters sucked me in, but its pace drastically slowed afterwards and I don't think it was until the last third of the novel that I truly became fully invested in this tale. Nevertheless, despite that minor qualm, The Lost Conspiracy is a masterpiece of literature. Although it doesn't contain nearly as many light bulb moments as A Face Like Glass did, it still keeps you turning the pages frantically. Hathin is such an endearing protagonist, at once distraught over her situation and still filled with hope. While she remains to be rather naive, her cunning and skills come to light as the novel progresses and she truly comes into her own without others to define her or her status. It is this journey of self-growth that makes The Lost Conspiracy so fantastic. Granted, its mystery, conspiracy, and idea are all masterfully rendered in and of themselves, but Hathin steals the show in every way. Although there is much darkness in this tale - what seems like too much, almost, for middle grade readers to understand and fully comprehend the magnitude of - The Lost Conspiracy remains a novel of immense hope. Underneath all its complexity, it stands as a one of the best coming-of-age novels ever written and leaves your heart nearly bursting with joy at the very end.