I hear about this all the time–either in question or statement: Can you create a non-nice hero that your readers like? You can create a non-nice hero that your readers like. And I always find myself searching through my memory for an example.

No more. I just finished Courtney Summers’ Cracked Up to Be, and she’s done it. Brilliantly.

Parker Fadley was perfect–all through high school and, I suspect, for years before. So perfect that she pushed herself to the point of cracking…and past. As the book opens, she is “recovering” from months of switching gears big time–doing everything wrong, everything she could possibly think of to mess up her world. She is on probation at school, with piles of conditions to meet if she wants to graduate from high school. And she is still on a rocket path of self-destruction, although that manifests itself as apparent attempts to destroy everything around her–her friendships, her relationship with her parents, and those chances at graduating. She is angry, cold, sarcastic, rude–you name it. And, on the surface, all for the pleasure of it.

So how does Summers make me like–love–Parker? I think she does it in two ways:

  • Point of View
  • Need

Point of View
Parker is fast. Her brain zips to the smart-mouth response, to the perfectly cruel thing to say (and, yes, the real delight she does get in saying it). At the same time, she’s clamping down on the panic that continually threatens her and scanning for escape routes. And snapping her fingers to get herself out of obsessive-mode or keep the nausea from turning into actual vomit. The book races, and Summers achieves this speed by getting us deeply into Parker’s point of view. Not the technical 1st person, present that is Summer’s tool, but the complete and total connection to the way Parker sees the world. As a threat to her goal, a trigger to her loss of control, a series of potentially devastating attacks. All from people who say they wish her well and have no clue, in her mind, what she truly needs. This is the point of view that Alicia Rasley talks about in her book The Power of Point of View.

Need
What Parker needs is to be left alone. Her quest for perfection and her (self-assessed) inability to achieve it pushed her, somewhere in the past, into an action that had horrible consequences. (No spoilers, and–on a side note–Summers did a wonderful job of trickling in the clues without once frustrating me.) Since then, Parker has decided that the thing she needs to do to save herself is to be alone–to be so horrible and damaging that everyone she has ever cared about, and who cared about her, will just give up on her and leave her to herself. She believes she is that bad-that this is the best thing they can do for themselves and that this is the only thing she can do to keep from destroying anything else. She’s, honestly, willing to totally destroy herself to reach this goal.

And you believe it. You believe in her self-hatred–totally woven into the hatred of everyone else that she projects. You believe in the absolute desperate power of this goal, that she cannot see past it to the help that she actually needs. You believe in the logic that makes her behave as she does, speak as she does, push…push…push as she does. There are so many kind people in this story, and Summers gets you to believe in the shallowness, stupidity, and danger that Parker sees in all of them. At the same time as you know she’s wrong.

There were so many times that I winced as I read this book, that I cringed at the nastiness coming out of Parker’s mouth, that I empathized with the friends who are ready to leave her to her own path, with the not-friends who are ready to help her along it. And so many times that I laughed at the wit with which she delivers her poison and ached at the moments when she almost reaches out.

If you want to see how to do this–how to create the mean, nasty, painful hero your readers can’t resist, pick up a copy of Cracked Up to Be. And enjoy. :)

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