Ask a bunch of authors or YA readers what books first got them into YA in its current incarnation, and you’ll hear a lot of Harry Potter. Twilight. Hunger Games. Ask me, though, and you’ll hear a whole lot of gushing about Cracked Up to Be, and the antiheroic glory of Parker Fadley. (Spoiler: you didn’t ask, but you’re about to hear it anyway.) I grew up on teen books, but before embarking on the works of Courtney Summers, I had no idea what they could be. Smart. Hilarious. Heartbreaking, but without being manipulative. Her books have an edge without trying to be edgy, and a soul without trying to be soulful. They are humor and pain so deeply intertwined it’s impossible to separate the strands. They are stories of real girls with real feelings who don real protective coverings to fend for themselves in a world rife with both apathy and hope. There are characters who want to hurt and those who want to heal and everyone in between, and every book radiates a frighteningly quiet power…building up until All the Rage lets it all loose.
All the Rage
Let’s get something straight about All the Rage: it was hands-down my most-anticipated 2015 novel. That’s a scary amount of weight to put on a book. On the flip side, it is absolutely amazing when a novel you hold to that standard not only lives up but exceeds your expectations. It’s a brutal book, cynical and harsh and so terrifyingly full of truth that it’s physically painful to read. Romy is living a nightmare, day after day spent in a merciless town having survived a rape by one of its golden boys. She is dying inside, dreading the future as she suffers the present and fearing nothing will ever be able to make her happy again. Perhaps the most haunting part of the book, though, is knowing that Romy’s story is the story of so many girls, told to deaf ears if to any ears at all. And not for a minute as you read will you be able to forget that.
Nor for a minute should you.
Cracked Up to Be
Summers’ debut will forever hold a special place in my heart, as will its main character, Parker Fadley. Parker used to be a superstar—a cheerleader with the perfect friends and the perfect boyfriend. Then her best friend disappeared, and with her, so did the Parker everyone knew. Now she’s a drinking, failing loner, blowing off everyone who cares about her and refusing to talk about what’s changed and why. The only chink in her armor is new boy Jake, who won’t allow Parker to keep him at arms’ length, and who just might force her to face the demons she’s been battling for too long. So just how sharp and thorny is Parker? Consider my favorite line, as stated to the girl who’s pushing to take her place: “How does it feel to know that even at my worst, you’re still not good enough?” In short, Cracked Up to Be won the 2009 Cybils Award for good reason, and if you’re looking for somewhere to start your Summers Education, beginning at the beginning is the perfect move.
Some Girls Are
YA has many books about bullying, as it should; there’s no arguing it’s a serious issue for teens, and comes in frighteningly many forms. But Summers’ sophomore novel looks at a kind of bullying so many girls know intimately but hadn’t seen taken seriously in pop culture: that of girls bullying other girls. Regina Afton was one of the popular ones, until she was attacked by a clique-mate’s boyfriend and dared to tell the truth about it. Now she’s the enemy, and the victim of the same kind of bullying and rumors she used to inflict on others, once upon a time. It’s only fitting, then, that she find solace in one of her former victims. Even at the bottom of the totem pole, Regina is a force to be reckoned with, and watching her go toe to toe with her former best friends is a thing of cruel and powerful beauty. As is her finding solace and support where she least expects it.
Fall For Anything
Summers is no stranger to books with an undercurrent of simmering anger, but her third book is tinged with a kind of sadness that threatens to break your heart. Eddie’s father committed suicide, and no one knows why, but she’s determined to find out. The surest key to the answer seems to be Culler Evans, a student of her father’s she didn’t know, but who may have known him better than anyone else. But solving the mystery of her father’s suicide means dwelling in the past, obsessing over things better left buried instead of moving on into the future alongside her loyal best friend and mourning mother. Poignant and relevant, this feels like Summers’ most personal novel, and perhaps her loveliest.
This is Not a Test
How can your interest not be piqued by the idea of The Breakfast Club as a zombie apocalypse? That’s the gist of Summers’ first non-contemporary novel, in which Sloane is trapped with five other students in her high school while zombies rage outside. The problem (other than the obvious) is, Sloane’s already suffered unimaginable loss that year, so fighting for a life she isn’t enthusiastic to keep living isn’t exactly top priority. But she isn’t alone, and the closer she gets to the other students, the clearer it becomes that surrender is not an option. Summers takes a novel of the undead and spins it on its head, turning it into a book about living, breathing emotions, relationships, and needs. Best part? It’s Summers’ only work with a sequel: the e-novella Please Remain Calm.
Please—like we’re ever calm about more Courtney Summers books.
All the Rage releases on April 14, and is available for preorder now.