Victor hates his life. He has no friends, gets beaten up at school, and his parents are always criticizing him. Tired of feeling miserable, Victor takes a bottle of his mother's sleeping pills—only to wake up in the hospital.
Bull is angry, and takes all of his rage out on Victor. That makes him feel better, at least a little. But it doesn't stop Bull's grandfather from getting drunk and hitting him. So Bull tries to defend himself with a loaded gun.
When Victor and Bull end up as roommates in the same psych ward, there's no way to escape each other or their problems. Which means things are going to get worse—much worse—before they get better…
OPINION: 4 STARS
The Short Version:
An intriguing blend of humor, grit and realism, Cracked puts a new twist on bullies without making blatant excuses. With two broken, beaten down narrators, and a well integrated dual story, readers will rally behind both boys while their hearts bled for them. Though lacking in depth in a few areas, the overall story is bold, engaging and one to be remembered and talked about.
The Extended Version:
Victor is more than just the stereotypical kid who's bullied, and has a certain softness about him that remains despite the numerous things that are hardening him to the world. With parents who are anything but supportive, and a strong desire for some kind of human interaction and affection, Victor's mind is an incredibly interesting place. Closed off yet perceptive, willing to try at least a little before his internal alarms fire and he retreats, Victor is the kind of beat down boy readers will inherently want to protect and stay behind until the final page. His development is fantastically done, with not one single point where he is suddenly strong, but rather several smaller triggers that add up in a great way. Allowing himself to finally something more, Victor goes through tremendous growth.
Bull, in a lot of ways, is the classic bully, the kind of guy who doesn't care if he hurts someone and who in some ways seems to get off on it. But then the reader will get a look not only at his home life but his childhood, and though Walton doesn't use this to excuse what he does, she masterfully integrates it into the boy he is. His dislike of Victor is palpable, with concrete reasons, rather than simply relying on the "I don't like him" kind of excuse often seen. Despite his upbringing, there is a goodness within Victor that is fueled as the story really kicks in, and readers will find themselves rooting for him. As in need of a human connection as Victor, Bull goes through his own strides of growth and development, changing his overall outlook not only life but towards other people.
The supporting cast is very strong, with several distinct personalities and changes seen even within those other characters. The way they interact with Bull versus Victor, too, comes through in a great way, and this reflects back to build and develop both boys as well. While the resolution with a few key characters was a little too easy and instant, overall, Walton has a knack for wonderful characters.
Though this one is very internally narrated, at least in the first several chapters, Walton does a great job of keeping readers gripped and into the story. Pulling in plenty of wit and gentle humor, there are plenty of breaks in the intensity and emotion without losing interest. The pacing stays steady, blending in hints of romance with the grief and self enlightenment aspect. Though a few scenes didn't go as in depth as this reader would have liked, and giving the book, overall, a little bit lighter of a feel, there are still some hefty moments and memorable elements.
The psych ward setting is well done, blending seamlessly into the book and keeping things simple enough for readers to imagine being there as well. Keeping it much more teen friendly than the typical structured prison feeling of many psych ward stories, Walton allows for great character development through this freedom and down time. Outside of the ward, the setting is just as vivid, particularly whe it comes to Bull's home.
While the two voices did sound similar in some ways, they are both still very clearly boy, with enough differences to let the reader know which boy is narrating without needing the chapter titles after a certain point. Without relying on simply using rough language to define the voices as male, and providing a realistic view on the world and new places, this is definitely a book for those who love male protagonists. While it is gritty, and holds nothing back in some aspects, thsi book will still find itself a spot within a female readership without being an instant turn off.
A well crafted plot and smoothly blended dual story lines, Cracked is gritty and engaging while still having plenty of humor along the way. Stellar character interactions and development drive this book, and pull the reader in easily. Delving deep into the hearts and minds of the two protagonists, and showing both sides of bullying without excusing either side, Walton's debut shows huge promise.
Source: ARC received from author/publisher in exchange for an honest review
Reading Level: 14 and up
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: January 3, 2012