Apparently I read books by Courtney Summers before parent-teacher conferences. This was never something I planned, but I read Cracked Up To Be last spring before portfolio conferences and here it is, the night before I spend 10 hours telling parents all about their kiddos, and I’m curled up with an ARC of Some Girls Are.
I stopped a third of the way into the book and sent her an e-mail: “I find myself terrified to stop reading & equally terrified to continue.” Then I paced the NTB for a full 30 seconds before picking up the book again.
When I came up for air the second time (it had gotten dark out and I needed to turn on the lights) I realized why this book is like a punch in the gut.
Courtney’s writing is honest. It’s vivid and so tangible it seems like you can reach out and touch the characters’ pain. Or maybe their pain reawakens an echo of your own. High school isn’t pretty, it isn’t easy… no matter how pretty the students are or how easy Those Few make it seem.
As I immersed myself in Some Girls Are I couldn’t escape connecting with the characters or seeing strains of myself in them – all those things that mean the book is well-written and absorbing. But, if you think seeing yourself in these characters is a good thing, you haven’t read the book yet.
Which is not to say anything bad about the book – it’s gorgeous and brilliant in its realism. Summers is, as always, my hero in her ability to show the things I’d rather not look at, think about, reflect on. She’s genius at it.
Thank God for her.
…And remember those times in high school when making it from your locker to homeroom was too exhausting. Not because you were up late studying, but because you didn’t know what you’d find there.
Remember the time in bio freshman year when you flipped through a friend’s FiveStar organizer to write her a note and found the “Things I hate about Tiffany” list. And because you were too busy remembering how to make your lungs function, you just shut it and velcroed the tab across the cover and never read it, or confronted her, or did anything but feel guilty and wonder who else had seen it.
Remember the times when you weren’t the victim but the tormentor, because the guy you crushed on liked someone else, so it felt like your right to hate her. More than right, it was your duty. What’s so great about her? Did you hear…?
We were or are or will be part of that system. And as I turned pages and saw myself in those words, I marveled that any of us make it out unscathed. I wonder how deep the marks go.
And as I sat there wondering, my e-mail blinked with a new message. It was from My Court, the one of my high school days, not the one who authored this book. My Court had stumbled upon a blog I’d written back in April about life and high school and such.
Her comment made me smile. Made me remember the day we spent throwing handfuls of loose glitter at my bedroom ceiling, while laughing so hard we couldn’t stand up, and singing lines from “I’ll back you up” when we caught our breaths again. Some of the glitter stuck to the clouds we’d painted, but most of it ended up on us. We went out to dinner like that, giggling as we shook our heads and freed cascades of hair and sparkles.
It is a perfect memory. High school has those, too.
And on the nights when I used to lay on my bed staring up at the ceiling wondering what my future held and how I’d ever get there, I could see those clouds and smile.
High school is hard. High school is painful. But if you’re really, really lucky, you don’t just graduate with scars and marks, but with those perfect memories and friends who can look you in the eye and sing comfortably out of key:
Do what you will, always
Walk where you like, your steps
Do as you please, I’ll back you up
THAT is what I wish for all real-life Reginas, Lizs, Michaels, Jeanettes, Martas, and even the Karas and Annas. I want everyone to have someone who sees them with glitter in their, hair, paint on their face, in old, ratty clothing and suggests they go out to eat at the most teen-frequented restaurant in town. And I want them all to agree without hesitation– because they want to – because they’re loved, respected, accepted, and safe.
Everyone deserves that. If I could bottle it up and distribute it with hugs, I would.
Since I can’t… I’ll do the next best thing: tell you to read Some Girls Are (release date January, 5, 2010) and let it change you.
Last night I read Courtney Summer’s Cracked Up to Be. I planned on starting it while I worked out and made it all the way to the basement before I cracked the cover while tying my sneakers. I was absorbed instantly and stumbled my way over the elliptical with my eyes glued to the pages and my hand groping for the buttons on the display. I punched a few of these to set it for hill intervals and turned my total attention to the book.
I didn’t lift my eyes from the words until St.Matt came clomping down the stairs wearing a sleepy but less-than-saintly expression and carrying all our bedding.
“Bruschi peed on me!”
“He did what? Why?”
“I don’t know – I was sleeping!”
“Did you take him out?”
“Well there’s really no reason to now, is there?”
I nodded solemnly and managed to wait until he walked into the laundry room before giggling.
After starting the washer, St.Matt came to stand by the elliptical.
“Good book?” He was really asking: Are you going to going to bed anytime soon?
“Excellent.” which is Tiffany-speak for: I’ll be finishing this book before I even begin thinking about sleep.
“How’s your workout going?”
“Good, it seems really easy today. I’ve been on for –”
I lifted the book to check the display and saw it flashing 00:00. I hadn’t hit start. This is why I need wait until after I get on the elliptical to crack the cover a book.
“I’ve been on for 31 pages,” I answered him as I pressed the start button.
I stayed on until I hit page 97, then I had to get off because it was too hard to breathe. Not because I was tired (although I bet I was by that point – I just wasn’t paying attention). I couldn’t breathe because I was crying, because all the air had been sucked out of the room.
Before I go any further, I want to say I think this book should be required reading for all high schoolers and all high school parents. It’s only fair to warn you, you won’t all like what you read, but it’s realistic and honest.
I wandered upstairs to the couch to finish the book – stopping periodically to take some deep breaths and unclench my tension tightened hands. I wanted/ want to save Parker – to save every child like her. And Summer’s honest writing doesn’t allow the reader to keep a safe emotional distance from Parker’s pain.
When I finished reading my chest was tight and my abs hurt from sobs. I had to focus on the inhales and exhales and tell myself: it’s just a story, it’s not real.
Except, for a lot teens – it is. Maybe not Parker’s exact story, but the sense of identity tied to perfection is an overwhelming and impossible reality.
Cracked Up to Be was both the ideal and an awful book to read the night before portfolio conferences with my class. In my district, students attend their spring parent-teacher conference, which focuses on identifying their strengths and weaknesses and setting a few, specific academic goals for them work on in the final semester.
Can you imagine an experience more anxiety-inspiring than walking into a room where your parents and teacher are going to discuss your strengths and weakness – and expect you to participate?
With Parker fresh in my mind, all I wanted to do was give each of my kiddos a hug, say: “You’re amazing, you’re loved, and I’m so proud of you.”
While the actual conferences did comprise of more than those sentiments — I did, after all, have twenty minutes with each kiddo — I hope they all left knowing those three things. Because they are, every one of them, amazing, loved, and impressive. I hope that if they ever enter into a Parker-type-period, they remember this and remember no matter how flawed they feel or what mistakes they’ve made, they’re still amazing, loved, and I’m still proud of them.
There’s a reason I have the following Emerson quote hanging on the door of classroom so it’s the last thing the kiddos see before leaving each day:
Tomorrow is a new day;
No matter what happens on any given day, I truly expect the kiddos to come back the next one and impress me again.
Because they are so amazing, so loved, and I’m so proud of them.