Friday, March 7, 2014

Review: Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens

There are three things I'm usually looking for when I read a contemporary novel: to jump into a situation I've never experienced (or sometimes one I *pray* I'll never experience), to hopefully watch a character / cast of characters grow and (hopefully) succeed, and to be given either insight or understanding about something I might not have known about before. In regard to these things, Faking Normal had several different levels of appeal. The idea of having someone come to live in my home is something I think I'd find very strange. The trauma that we know Bodee has witnessed had hairs on my arms standing on end. And I had to know whether, and how, Alexi would find the strength to acknowledge and deal with what happened to her.

Was Faking Normal able to do justice to the story of these two brave, wounded souls? Was it too dark, too light, too "romance-y" for its subject matter? Or did it manage to hit just the right notes? Read on and find out.
(Summary from GoodReads)
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.
For some reason I'll never fully understand, I am drawn to contemporary novels where the characters are facing things that are real, and yet seem so bizarre within my own context of living that they almost seem otherworldly. It is this sense of "How does this *happen*?!" that first grabbed me about Faking Normal and put it on my must read list. How would YOU react if your father killed your mother? That is the agonizing reality that now makes up the minutes, days and hours of Bodee Lennox's existence. And I must say, when all is said and done, this was the first of many ways he amazed me.

But I'm jumping ahead. Bodee was by far my favorite character, and he is definitely important. But lets not discredit Alexi Littrell, our main character and narrator. Alexi is definitely facing demons of her own, and I feel that Faking Normal portrayed her struggle, and gave me ways to understand and relate to her situation that I don't think a book has ever presented me with before.

Let's get real honest: Alexi has been raped. I am pretty sure most people will figure this out very quickly. What won't be discovered as fast, and what is put to brilliant use, is how we discover "whodunit". It's not, from what I pieced together, that Alexi doesn't *remember*. Rather, as with most cases in real life, this happened because of someone close. The horror of such a betrayal, and the fear of the ramifications that exposing this individual would have, both succeed (for lack of a better word) in keeping her silent for a large majority of the novel--even to herself, and therefore to the reader. Considering the culture we live in, the prevalence of blaming victims for crimes committed against them, and the things we learn about Alexi's past, I found this extremely believable.

I've gone to town blasting books for this kind of narrative manipulation in other reviews. So, why do I not only condone but also praise it here? Because it allowed me to actually experience the fear of others that Alexi must have been dealing with each day (and which she will likely struggle with long after I closed the book). Every male character (except Bodee, whom if we're going to parallel solving the mystery / naming the villain as a metaphor becomes our 'detective' and therefore an illogical suspect) is a giant question mark. A potential threat to be cautiously observed, thoroughly analyzed and always, on some intuitive inner level, either mistrusted or outright feared. I probably switched my theory on who was responsible three times during the course of the book. What's more, my own mood began to echo Alexi's own highs and lows as she attempted to keep "faking normal". A character who initially seemed lightyears different then me in her circumstances became someone within fiction that I feel I've had one of the most tangible experiences of not just sharing, but in some strange small way living, a story as. Incredible.

Okay. Now we can talk about Bodee. :)

Let me start with this: Bodee may be my favorite love interest in any YA novel I've ever read. Period. Hands down. No competition. And here's the kicker: he's a good guy. (Shocking, I know. I have that whole 'I love villains tendency and I'm still telling you this.) Why? Because as much as I love the 'bad boys' of literature, I can tell all of you that in real life, I'd want (and am actually fortunate to have) a guy like Bodee. Bodee is not a magical pill that makes Alexi better. Bodee is not perfect--we've already established he's going through his own hell during this book and while I found him strong, please don't confuse that with him traipsing through the tulips like nothing is happening. Bodee is genuine--his honesty was extremely refreshing and oh so needed in this book. And Bodee is the kind of guy who is there when he is needed.

I also think that there may have been some clever symbolism that I quite liked. There were some Christian tones to this novel (which may be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your reading tastes) and I think that was put to good use. I'm wondering if Bodee's hair is suppose to be an allusion to God granting us the rainbow, which is a symbol of hope. I also wonder whether the bird that Alexi sees later in the novel is a throwback to the Dove which brought back proof of land after the flood, since the bird in Faking Normal is in part connected to Alexi finally facing the "flood" of her emotions regarding her situation and finally finding the courage to actually face it. Okay--analysis over, people. I promise. :)

The last thing that I want to say before I wrap this up is that despite the dark issues the characters are facing, this novel is absolutely not a downer. There are genuine moments of humor and warmth and the story is moreso about these characters finding peace and healing than it ever is about them wallowing in the tragedies that have befallen them. I was sucked in from page one and as the story drew to a fitting close the world that Alexi and Bodee inhabit is one which I was sorry to have to leave. I am confident that these two characters and Faking Normal, as a whole, will have a place in my heart for a long, long time.
I can usually answer this really easily, but when it comes to a story with issues as heavy and potentially personal as those found here, I must first advise people to look within themselves. You know what will help or hinder you. Again: I feel that Faking Normal was honest but extremely positive. I absolutely loved it. I think it was beautiful. As a book, without worrying about any other concerns, I would recommend Faking Normal without any hesitation. The slow, beautiful growth of trust, friendship and affection between Alexi and Bodee was of a quality where upon finishing Faking Normal, part of me was tempted to go back to the beginning and read it again. I can give no higher praise.



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