Monday, April 29, 2013

Mini-Reviews: Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers & The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge

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.

13 comments:

  1. I really like the cover to The Lost Conspiracy.

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  2. I read This is not a Test by Courtney Summers and really enjoyed the story. I have seen this one around but haven't read it yet. I really know how it is to write a review but you have no idea how to express the feelings. I'm glad you enjoyed it.
    I haven't seen the other one but I think I'll skip this one.
    Great reviews!

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  3. I made myself promise to pick up more of Summers books after I devoured This is Not a Test, but once again I failed in that respect. I love it when an author makes a protagonist to hard to like, but you end up emphasizing with them anyway over the course of the book. I think I may have to read Cracked Up to Be for my read-athon now! And I have utterly failed again, as I've not read a novel by Frances Hardinge :( Don't kill me Keertana, I will try and change this soon! Great reviews once again :)

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  4. I still haven't been able to write a review for Cracked Up To Be.. it was such an emotional reading experience. Not perfect, as you say, but so powerful. I'm such an enormous fan of Summers - her writing just amazes me. I'm glad you liked it too, it has its flaws but is still such a moving read.

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  5. YES--this is the reason I still haven't reviewed A Face Like Glass. There just weren't words for me, I loved it so...but I really must get something out at some point because if there's any author who deserves more publicity it's Hardinge. I understand your struggle to get into Lost Conspiracy. It was my first Hardinge book, and I felt the same about the pacing--I was so drawn into the world, but the slow pacing of it did shock me. Additionally, I really need to pick up more Courtney Summers. I adored This Is Not a Test, which convinced me that despite fearing issue books and contemps in many cases, I will love her work dearly.

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  6. Hmmm. I'm super curious about Cracked Up to Be Keertana, I want to see if I'll actually like a really unlikable heroine. It never fails to impress me when an author can make me relate to and connect with someone who is rude and cruel and keeps to herself. Fabulous review, I'm adding that one to my list for sure!

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  7. I've seen Cracked Up to Be on goodreads for a while now. It keeps on popping up on my recommendations list.

    Parker sounds like one of the girls from Before I Fall, but is kind of a quest to redeem herself. I might have to pick this one up sometime Keertana.

    Lovely review as always!
    Cheers,
    Savindi

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  8. Having read A Face Like Glass, I completely agree that Hardinge's writing is appropriate for older readers, too. It's incredibly intelligent, after all. I'm glad to see you liked The Lost Conspiracy! I still need to read some of Courtney Summers' contemporary books (I've been saying this for months now!), but I'm hoping I will appreciate Cracked Up to Be as much as This Is Not a Test. Fantastic reviews as always, Keertana! I definitely agree with your paragraph about mini-reviews, by the way. ;)

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  9. I'm trying to hold off reading Cracked Up to Be until it's published in that collection with Some Girls Are (yay for 2 books in 1!), but I definitely need to read more Summers after being so pleasantly surprised by This is Not a Test. Although it's too bad you didn't enjoy this quite as much as This is Not a Test, at least you found enough aspects to enjoy it overall. I also do think it's fascinating to see how an author's writing has evolved over the years by looking at older and newer books.
    And I definitely need to read some Hardinge soon! I'll bypass the MG label for someone whose works are so respected by readers older than the MG intended audience. :)

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  10. Courtney Summers is another author that I need to read soon! I'm loosing out today. I have This is Not a Test on my TBR but I have yet to pick it up, and this one sounds fantastic as well. I'm especially interested in the fact that she makes us sympathize with and relate to a heroine that you'd usually dislike and write off. I haven't read anything by Frances Hardinge, but I want to find A Face LIke Glass. It's not in either of my library systems, though many of her others are. I will keep looking! You always make me want to go out and pick up a ton new books!

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  11. I agree that Cracked up to Be isn’t one of Summers’ best novels, but at the same time, Parker is probably my favorite of her protagonists. Like you said, the entire book’s success rides on her shoulders, and it works really well. And now that you’ve written this review, you can treat yourself to more of her books! :D

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  12. I love your mini reviews, Keertana:)

    I have GOT to read a Courtney Summers book one of these days, I consistently hear good things about her work. And I feel like I want to try out one of her contemps first.

    And I have never even heard of Frances Hardinge so clearly I am missing out. Adding A Face Like Glass to my TBR list:)

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