Cracked is the debut novel by K.M. Walton. It follows two enemies, Victor and Bull, as they go through the trials of home life and ultimately end up in the psychiatric ward of a hospital. There, they are forced to be roommates and must learn to deal with the events that have put them in their respective situations in the first place, and ultimately learn a little bit about each other as well. This novel has been touted to be a telling narrative about the modern bully, and about the effects that it can have on kids as they try to get through their teenage years intact. Bull is a relentless tormentor of Victor’s but through the splitting of the narrative into both of their points of view, the author is able to give us both sides of the story.
I always feel uncomfortable giving really negative reviews of novels, because I know that I can’t currently fathom the amount of effort that it takes to get a book written, accepted and edited for publication. That being said, this was possibly my least favorite book of the year. I almost cracked a little myself trying to read it, and quite frankly, I might have quit halfway through if I wasn’t lured by the hopes that it would get better and the fact that I have challenged myself to focus on debut novels this year.
I could go on at length about some of the things that I found distracting and unbelievable about this novel. The way that Victor’s parents are two dimensional and that I can’t properly fathom a set of parents who would go through with the pregnancy only to be so uninterested in this wonderful child. The fact that Bull’s manner of speaking and thinking often includes outdated and age-inappropriate slang that makes him sound comedic at times that are supposed to be dead serious. How these two teenage boys seem to be completely self-aware and acknowledge their feelings to themselves all the time. How they both manage to find love in the psych ward in a matter of hours.
But there was something pervasive in this novel that I could not abide by at all, and it is the way that almost every female character is presented by her sexual value. I have not come across a review yet that has really addressed this, though I certainly have not read them all. While I was reading, it felt to me that every other page mentioned the boys drooling over pretty nurses or getting boners, and almost every main female character in the novel is first evaluated by how pretty she is. For example, this is Bull’s thought process while he’s thinking about the girl in the corner at their group session:
How did she try to kill herself? What made her do it? What is she afraid of? What would it be like to hug her? Make out with her? Touch her?
Great, I have a boner.
I have to stop looking at her. At least these sweats are big and loose, and I’m sitting down. No one can tell. God, at least I hope to shit they can’t tell.
And this is a gem from the first conversation that Victor has with his budding love interest, Nikole:
We both get up, even though I have no where to go. And in the hallway Nicole turns one way and I turn the other. I watch her walk towards her room. She turns around, walks back to me, and whispers in my ear “Your dreams are going to come true, Victor. I can feel it.” Then she kisses my cheek.
Again I watch her walk toward her room, but this time I can feel the blood surge in my sweatpants.
These are just two of many examples of this kind of thinking on the boys’ part. It may be that I was so distracted by the objectification of all the women in this novel that I was unable to grasp it’s better points. It may also be that it’s unfair to read this so quickly after reading Ned Vizzini’s amazing novel It’s Kind of a Funny Story, which I really enjoyed and thought did a better job of portraying the progression of depression and suicide. And ultimately, I don’t think the author was trying to portray women in this manner. I think Walton was trying to find an authentic voice for her teenage male characters, and the way that she chose to do it was to bring attention to the fact that guys probably think about sex quite a bit. Still, I thought it was not only unfair to the females in this book, but also for Victor and Bull. I think that male characters should be given more credit than that, and that it’s not cool to portray them as having such shallow interactions with the women in their lives unless it’s truly crucial to understanding the characters.
I feel the author was making a great attempt to try to put a spotlight on the bullying issue that faces many kids today, and I say “attempt” because as other reviewers from Goodreads have said, the trouble for Victor and Bull mostly comes from their terrible home lives and not each other. But for me, the novel swaps one issue for another in that the female characters we encounter are portrayed in regards to their sexual value. I hope that Walton works through this and can keep it in mind as she writes her next piece.