Teen Read Week is officially October 16th through 22nd, but here at The Hub, we’re celebrating all month long with 31 Days of Authors. On each day in October, we’ll bring you author interviews and profiles and reflections on what YALSA-recognized books have meant to us.
Sometimes an author writes a book that sticks with you. Then they write a second book and the same thing happens. Then book three happens, and you know you’ve found someone that you can easily call one of your favorite, go-to authors. That’s what happened to me when I stumbled upon Courtney Summers, via her books Cracked Up to Be, Some Girls Are (a 2011 YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers and 2011 YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults list), and Fall for Anything (a 2012 nominee for YALSA’s Quick Picks list and nominee for YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults list).
Summers’s books pack a punch, putting characters into extreme situations and never letting them find an easy way out — such is the reality of teens living through some of the very situations she writes about. Her writing is tight and every word counts, making these the kinds of books that appeal to both those who may be more reluctant readers, as well as those who like a story that grabs them from the first line and holds them through to the end. That is, whether there is a true conclusion or not — it’s Summers’s signature style to leave a lot of conclusion drawing up to the reader.
Cracked Up to Be (St Martins Griffin, 2009) follows Parker Fadley, who finds herself spiraling out of control. She’s given up her good grades, her social status, and her passion for cheerleading, and no one knows why. She’s becoming more depressed and more dependent upon pills to pull herself through each day at school. Parker pulls a reader in instantly with her strong voice, and she drops enough clues throughout the story that beg readers to find out exactly why she’s gone from being “perfect Parker Fadley” to a shadow of her former self. Something terrible has happened, and she might be the one to blame.
Some Girls Are (St Martins Griffin, 2010) is, for me, the most powerful of Summers’s books. Call it almost noir in style. Regina Afton is best friends with Anna. Anna is the most powerful girl in school; get on her bad side, and you’re in trouble. Guess who’s just found herself on the wrong side of that line? The book is an unflinching look at bullying and social politics in high school, and it’s one that quite literally packs a punch to the reader’s gut. Mean Girls is a cake walk comparatively, and perhaps what makes this book most powerful is that in reading it, you know these things happen every day in high schools around the world. It’s not an easy read, but it’s a memorable one.
Summers’s most recent book, Fall for Anything (St Martins Griffin, 2011), shows off her more literary talents. Eddie Reeves’s father, who was a bit of a well-known artist back in the day, killed himself, and Eddie is determined to find out why. But in her quest to discover the truth behind her father’s suicide, Eddie becomes wrapped up with Culler Evans, an older boy who claims to have been a former student of her father’s, and he promises to help her unravel the truth. But the truth isn’t so simple, and neither are Culler’s true intentions. This is a story of loss, grief, and self discovery.
Summers’s books will appeal to readers who aren’t afraid of tough issues, making them excellent choices for those who devour the works of Ellen Hopkins, Laurie Halse Anderson, Gail Giles, and other similar authors. These books are raw, and perhaps the thing that really makes them stand out for me is that they respect the reader — they speak to teens honestly, without trying to impart a message or trying too hard.
For those interested in learning more about Courtney Summers (including learning a little more about her forthcoming 2012 novel, This is Not a Test, which features zombies), check out her website. She keeps a great blog on her site, and it’s worth going back through the archives. Likewise, you can find her on Twitter, on Tumblr, and on Facebook. Earlier this year, she was interviewed by CBC Radio’s show “Definitely Not the Opera” about writing, but what stands out is what she has to say about teenagers and writing for teenagers, as it’s clear she is passionate and respectful of her readership. You can listen to the segment here, starting at the 32-minute mark.
— Kelly Jensen, who is currently reading Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez