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Reader interrupted

The supernatural genre has been explored thoroughly. Every combination of zombies, were creatures, vampires and other spooky beasties has been explored in a book, comic, TV show or video game. With this glut of storytelling, any new example of the genre has to be evaluated on technique, since the plot elements will have already been seen somewhere else.

Eliza Crewe’s Cracked falls short on both plot and technique, unfortunately. Genre-savvy readers will realize that the plot, involving a young girl who is the cross-breed of a demon and one of God’s superpowered soldiers, is very similar to the starting premise of Garth Ennis’ comic book Preacher. Of course, Preacher was filled with violence, profanity and transgressive sex, and it’s unlikely that Cracked’s young-adult (YA) audience would have read it. To that extent, they may find the plot genuinely new.

However, Preacher also managed to tell its story through art and dialogue, something Cracked fails to do. The book’s treatment of dialogue is particularly weak, as almost every piece of it seems to be accompanied by an equally long piece of exposition. Crewe does not allow her characters to simply talk, but has her protagonist-narrator provide commentary on everything that is said, even if the narrator is the one who has been saying it.

This is exasperating on three levels. First, the conversation keeps getting interrupted; second, the interruptions are by a cynical know-it-all narrator where the cynicism is neither believable nor enjoyable; and finally, a lot of the interruptions are unnecessary. I can understand the need to explain the book’s supernatural MacGuffins, but not why every feeling has to be described in such great detail.

The narrator is a teenage girl who has an explanation ready for everything, but keeps complaining that she doesn’t understand what’s going on. Hyper-aware commentary can be excellent if done well. In Calvin And Hobbes, Calvin’s running commentary in college-level vocabulary on consumerism and ethics is incongruous coming from a six-year-old, but it only makes him funnier. Crewe’s exposition is snarky and, without that sort of comic timing, not funny.

Cracked does some things very well. Crewe sends up the damsel-in-distress trope throughout the book. We get to see things from the point of view of the damsel instead of the knight. This is made funnier by the fact that for a long time the narrator merely pretends to be in trouble in order to pump an enthusiastic young knight-in-training for information. When distress actually descends on her, she responds to it with as much, possibly more, courage than the knight.

Cracked also shines in its portrayal of the minor characters. The Harry Potter series was often accused of shortchanging its supporting cast, with critics pointing out that the entire series is actually about Hermione bailing Harry and Ron out of trouble for which Harry, unfairly, gets front billing. Cracked does not suffer from this problem. The protagonist is aware of what the other characters are doing to help her out and acknowledges it.

The trouble is that readers of Cracked will have to struggle to get through the repetitive exposition and clunky dialogue to get to the finer nuances of characterization. I didn’t find it worthwhile, and considering that YA readers have better choices, in the supernatural genre and others, I don’t think they will either.

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