by Courtney Stevens
Original Publication Date: February 25, 2014
Length: 321 pages
Obtained Via: Won
Format Read In:Advanced Reader’s Copy
View at the Traffic light:
An edgy, realistic, and utterly captivating novel from an exciting new voice in teen fiction.
Alexi Littrell hasn’t told anyone what happened to her over the summer. Ashamed and embarrassed, she hides in her closet and compulsively scratches the back of her neck, trying to make the outside hurt more than the inside does.
When Bodee Lennox, the quiet and awkward boy next door, comes to live with the Littrells, Alexi discovers an unlikely friend in “the Kool-Aid Kid,” who has secrets of his own. As they lean on each other for support, Alexi gives him the strength to deal with his past, and Bodee helps her find the courage to finally face the truth.
A searing, poignant book, Faking Normal is the extraordinary debut novel from an exciting new author-Courtney C. Stevens.
Overall, I’m extremely torn on how I felt about Faking Normal in the end. The writing was superb, and *some* of the content was handled in a reasonable way that made me emotional, but then there were some problematic elements that really bothered me. I should say now that this book and this review deals with some very sensitive subjects such as sexual abuse and I feel that warning should be upfront.
From the beginning, we know that someone has assaulted Alexi, but she doesn’t say who, too afraid to go there even in her own thoughts. Now, my reading of this book may have been impacted because I knew who Alexi’s rapist was from the beginning, as I read spoiler-filled reviews before picking up this book. I hadn’t really been planning on reading this book until it was in a box of books I won and my curiosity got the better of me, so that may have affected my reading, but it’s impossible to say. Alexi doesn’t name anyone until almost the very end of the book because it’s just been so difficult for her, and she’s hiding it in her mind. I didn’t have a problem with that, and I could see how the act of naming–even to herself–would be almost impossible.
However, knowing the identity of the perpetrator and that Alexi interacts with him quite frequently, I found her response unrealistic. While it is perfectly reasonable that Alexi learns to cope being around this person–a sad, sad fact, but one that does happen in real life–I don’t think she wouldn’t have any response at all, even in her mind. Since the story is told in first-person point of view, I found it hard to believe throughout the course of Faking Normal that Alexi would be so calm around this person on the inside and the outside. Putting up a front I understand, but seeing into Alexi’s mind and not seeing that part? That was harder to believe.
The one thing I did really love about Faking Normal was that I thought Alexi’s mental processes(other than not reacting when her rapist was around), were incredibly realistic. Alexi starts scratching her neck in a harmful way, has trouble concentrating, and becomes withdrawn. The way Alexi lays in bed at night and tries to count the slots in her air vent, the way she would hide in her closet to cry–these acts both tugged and my emotions and were something a victim of such a crime might do. Seeing into Alexi’s thought process was just incredibly heart-breaking but also well-done.
I also thought Steven’s writing was particularly strong for a debut, though there were an abundance of metaphors in the text, which I found strange. Most of them worked well to paint a picture, but some were a little too out there for me and took me out of the story of Faking Normal. I also commend this book for sort of really diving into what constitutes rape and how what happened to Alexi was rape. Not almost-rape. Not a bad decision, but was an actual sexual assault. That is so, so important and I’m glad that Faking Normal addresses that issue. Some of the reviews I read for this book prior to reading indicated that the reviewer didn’t feel what happened to Alexi was rape because she didn’t fight it off or be as vocal as she could have been, and honestly that makes me feel a little sick, so I’m definitely glad it’s addressed in the book.
However, while Faking Normal did all of that pretty well, the issues I had still remain. Part of Alexi’s healing process is tied up to Bodee, the guy we’re introduced to at the beginning of the story at a funeral. Bodee comes from a tough background–an abusive father that end up killing his mother. It’s difficult, and as both Bodee and Alexi are hurting, it’s easy to see how they would be drawn to each other for comfort. For the majority of the story, I enjoyed seeing how this dynamic played out, and it did seem like an equal give-and-take of comfort. However, towards the end, I thought Alexi’s ability to move forward and heal was tied up to Bodee way too much. It became too convenient and unbelievable. Bodee’s suffering was pushed to the side to make room for Alexi’s, and while she *is* the main character in the book, I still felt Bodee didn’t get the proper treatment of his problems as was deserved. In the end, it felt like Bodee was much too instrumental in “saving” Alexi and pushing her out of her silence.
My biggest problem with Faking Normal, though, the issue that really made me consider throwing the book across the room, was that once the truth is out, nobody even really considers going to the police. After being mislead to think that Alexi’s rapist is a certain friend, it’s revealed that it is Craig, her older sister’s now-fiance, boyfriend at the time.He is ten years older than Alexi, so not only is this a rape case, but a case wherein a 25-year-old rapes a fifteen-year-old, and NOBODY even really considers going to the police. Now, I think there may be valid reasons one would not want to go to the police right away. It’s a tough place to be in. But considering who the rapist is, there’s a good chance that it could happen again with another girl, and I really needed someone in the story to at least consider–really consider–going to the authorities. It’s brushed aside with such little care.
This is really not okay. Like, I can not begin to describe how much it upsets me that no one even considers going to anyone and how it’s kept–mostly–in the family. It could SO EASILY happen to someone else now. Reporting something like that can be scary, I get it. And sometimes characters make choices I disagree with. It’s not even so much that I had a problem the characters don’t go to the authorities–it’s that it’s never given the proper treatment of consideration.
Not only that, but someone Alexi confides in eventually tells one of Alexi’s friends what happened. That’s not okay either. Telling parents, police, or other authorities? NECESSARY. Telling someone else’s friend? Not okay, even though Alexi isn’t upset with it, that still should have been up to *her*. In fact, it’s treated as a favor and Alexi is grateful for it. The idea that this person became Alexi’s “protector” and that it was perfectly fine for them to tell Alexi’s friends without her permission is troubling. The rape was a serious case of lack of consent for Alexi, so why would a character who is suppose to be Alexi’s friend tell her other friends without Alexi’s consent? It’s not on the same scale by any means, but it’s still taking the ability to be in charge of what is shared from the person who has already had their consent taken from them in a large way.
Faking Normal was such a mixed bag. I started this review out believing I would give the book three stars, but the more I wrote, the more those issues continued to bug me. I had big, big problems with the way so many things were just brushed aside towards the end, though I definitely felt an emotional pull toward Alexi’s situation and had so much sympathy for her. While parts of Faking Normal were so good, I can’t turn the issues off in my mind. 2/5 cupcakes.