Study Guide

Cara Sierra Sykes in Perfect

By Ellen Hopkins

Cara Sierra Sykes

Cara's our most direct link to Impulse, so she gets to open and close the book. As Conner's twin sister, she totally knows what he's dealing with when it comes to the helicopter parents. Mr. and Mrs. Sykes want her to be all she can be, and if that means beating her over the head with the clown hammer of perfection, they'll do it. (You know, clown hammers. Those gigantic, squishy mallets that look like they could kill you but are actually just really annoying. Anyway.)

What It Looks Like

On the outside, Cara's everything her parents want her to be. "I've lived with the pretense/of perfection for seventeen/years," she tells us. "Give my room a cursory/inspection, you'd think I have OCD" (1.7). Okay, so girl's super pulled together on the outside.

But what would her room look like if her parents were more chill? Would she freely toss dirty clothes over the lamps and let the cereal bowls pile up on her desk? It's hard to say—in fact, Cara herself probably doesn't know. Her whole world is all about doing what her parents expect: She's a cheerleader, she gets perfect grades (got to go to her parents' alma mater, Stanford), and she's dating the perfect guy. She says:

[…] Sean
is adventurous. Fun. Good-looking
in a jock kind of way. And you know,
everyone expects the perfect girl

to go out with the perfect guy.
If there's one thing I've learned
from Mom, it's that appearances are
everything. (5.19-20)

If everything were really perfect, though, Conner wouldn't have tried to kill himself. Her parents drove him over the brink, and they're about to do the same to Cara. As she tells us, "The pressure they exert individually/is immense. As a team, it's almost/impossible to measure up" (1.29). Her room might be clean, but Cara's being crushed by her parents' expectations.

How It Really Is

Conner's suicide attempt changed everything for Cara. When her twin was at home, there was someone else with whom to split the parental pressure. But now she's beginning to wonder, "[…] when/did creating a flawless façade/become a more vital goal/than learning to love the person/who/lives inside your skin?" (1.4-5). Good question, Cara.

However, loving the person who lives inside your skin requires knowing who that person is. Sure, there are some kids who pop out of the womb knowing they want to be doctors or teachers or magicians with their own show in Vegas (Penn and Teller, holla! Also, don't try this at home). However, uncertainty is generally part of the teenage experience. After all, how can you know what you want to do with the rest of your life when your experience of the world is filtered through your parents?

This isn't about a career path, though. Cara's got something more immediate to deal with: She's gay, and nobody knows.

We're Here, We're Queer… Wait, Are We?

When Cara meets Dani on a ski slope, her world turns upside down. Sure, she's already upside down from plowing headfirst into a snowdrift, but we're talking speaking metaphorically here. And when Dani kisses her, Cara feels something she hasn't felt, well, ever: lust.

She's been trying to make herself lust over Sean, but it's just not happening. However, it seems a little premature to hang out a rainbow flag. "Gay. Lesbian. Words," she says, "That did not/ apply to me until recently. Or did/they? Do you have to admit you're/a lesbian before you are one?" (33.13). It's kind of like the chicken and the egg debate, right? Except Cara really needs to get to the bottom of this one.

Because here's the thing: If you don't acknowledge what you want, it's hard to go after it. Cara has no problem going after Dani, though—she just has a problem with her parents wanting her to go after something else. Same issue, different day. Just like they have very clear ideas about where Cara should go to college, they also have pretty clear preferences for who she should date.

But when Sean catches Cara and Dani in bed together, takes pictures, and distributes them to everyone in school, she has to come out to her folks if she wants them to help her press charges. When she finally says, "I know this is not on your/Top Ten Qualities In A Daughter list./But I am a lesbian," (45.21) we want to make a Pride parade float just for her. And when she kisses Dani at Conner's funeral, our hearts soar a bit. Not because she's finally in a good relationship (though we're glad for that, too), but because she's finally in a good relationship… with herself.