Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens | Book Review

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens | Book ReviewFaking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens
Published by HarperCollins on 2014-02-25
Genres: Friendship, Girls & Women, Sexual Abuse, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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three-half-stars

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.

Friends, this review of Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens is not that easy for me to write. I have not ever experienced anything like the main characters, myself. However, in my current job capacity I have worked with people who have been in the exact same position as both Alexi and Bodee, the two main characters. For me, this book brought up different feelings. I often had to take off my work hat and keep my reader hat on. However, it’s very, very hard for me to delete the knowledge I have about traumatization, post traumatic stress disorder, the legal and medical system while I read. There are some things Faking Normal gets right and also a few things that I wish had been done a bit differently, going again with the knowledge that I have.

Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens is about Alexi, a teenage girl who was sexually assaulted over the summer by a close friend. The book opens up with Alexi and her family attending the funeral of a family friend, Bodee’s mother, who was in the same prayer group as Alexi’s mom, and was murdered by her husband. Bodee is very quiet and has a reputation as the Kool Aid Kid because he dyes his hair with Kool Aid. He is also very poor and wears second hand clothing apparently. Anyways, Bodee comes to live with Alexi’s family as his brother Ben does not quite have the resources to care for him. And so, Alexi and Bodee form a tentative friendship, bonding in their quietness and trauma. Meanwhile, Alexi has two best friends, Heather and Liz and she kind of feels like the odd woman out with them. Also? She’s been engaging in a back and forth with a mysterious admirer conversing in lyrics on her desk and has decided she is in love. Oh yeah and also Alexi’s sister Kayla is older and kind of domineering and engaged to her gym teacher, Craig, or Mr. Tanner.

For me, what works about Faking Normal is that it talks about a kind of rape that isn’t often talked about. That is, it talks about how lack of consent is rape. You don’t have to scream no no no and fight off an attacker in the bushes for it to be rape. As an advocate for victims of crimes, including rape, I look at it as rape is the lack of enthusiastic consent. Some people react to trauma by freezing up, by not reacting and hoping it will be over soon. That’s what Alexi does. She doesn’t scream or anything. Maybe because she knows her assailant well and figured he would see her crying and stop. Maybe because her reaction to stress is to freeze. You know, that whole flight, fight, or freeze thing. But yeah, I was glad that this book was very clear that if you are not saying yes and an active participant in sexual activity, if it’s being forced, it is rape. Furthermore, let’s just say that there’s a power dynamic at work here.

The writing and pacing aren’t bad. They are actually quite decent. I read Faking Normal pretty much in a single sitting which I was not expecting and which I have not done in a very long time. I did connect with the characters. I cared about Alexi and was rooting for her, even though she’s kind of judgmental in the beginning of the book. I liked the role her friends played as well. Heather and Liz are awesome.

However, some things did rub me the wrong way, but that’s because of my experience in the field. I mean, I think that I am a bit more of an “expert” than the average person off the street. I’m a certified rape crisis counselor. I’ve gone to court with victims. I’ve advocated for the families of child victims while they are interviewed at a children’s center. I’ve taught classes on how to work with victims. So, let’s just say I am not pulling what I say out of my ass. There’s a part where Alexi is considering telling because she does not want to ruin rapist character’s life and of course, LIFE EXPERIENCE sort started yelling in my head. First off, rapist character has something to do with the football team. After seeing what happened with Steubanville, I kind of was thinking that no, given the amount of power football seems to have in Alexi’s small town, her confessing will not affect his life. Furthermore, knowing our rape culture today, I know that even though victims are not supposed to be on trial, a defense lawyer would unfortunately rip her, given that not everyone has that understanding of YES MEANS YES as opposed to our current chant of no means no. Then, I think about how in the time that I’ve been doing this job, I’ve probably seen maybe two rapists go to jail, and that for small children. Like, this sucks a lot. I just couldn’t turn that part of my brain off, the wait, that’s not what would happen in real life.

Then, there’s the whole Bodee and Alexi helping each other to get over the trauma. You guys, when your mother is murdered in front of you, you don’t just get over that trauma. It will run much deeper than hiding under the bed doing pull ups. Like, I felt that the book got that bit of trauma wrong. I understand that each victim is different and will have a different reaction, but come on. Further, there was nary a social worker to be seen. Now, with Bodee, I know for a fact that social workers would be involved with his case. I know that he would not just be sent to live with Alexi’s family, especially given that they are not even related. Unless they do things differently in the south. Like, I get that it can be healing to meet with peers who have also been through horrific events, but honestly, therapy is so important and there’s a part where Alexi is flip about her parents putting her in counseling and I just wanted to shake the book, because there are some great therapists out there who are trauma informed who will absolutely help her get through her post traumatic stress disorder and sort through her trauma. Just, ahhhh, pet peeve. Anyways, yeah. I am reading way too much into this book.

Overall, I think that Faking Normal is an important book for teenagers. It matters that there are books out there that talk about things teenagers have been through. It matters that books talk about different forms of sexual assault and legitimizes a victim’s experience. I am glad Courtney C. Stevens wrote this book because it’s a very, very important story to tell. I appreciate this book, even when I could not shut my brain off during certain parts.

three-half-stars
About April (Books&Wine)

April is 28 years old and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. In her free time she can be found reading, working out, or eating junk food. She often wears her sunglasses at night.

Comments

  1. I am so glad somebody had the same issues as I did with this one. Like you pointed out, there are definitely good parts about this book. I liked the writing, and the focus on lack of consent still being rape because that one is HUGE. But yeah, the whole thing with Bodee was so off. For me it felt like Bodee was able to save her from her pain blahblahblah and that’s just not accurate. And the whole lack of adults/helping professionals frustrated me because you’re totally right, there are amazing trauma therapists and I think that if this story were real, they would’ve been the ones to help her, not Bodee, at least not to the degree he did. Plus, I feel like therapists constantly get a bad rap in YA, and that’s not the message we need to be giving teens. Most people aren’t super excited about the idea of seeing a therapist for something, especially trauma, so it shouldn’t be stigmatized any more than it already is.

    Ok. Sorry for the rant. This topic just hits really close to home so I get ragey easily lol
    Rachel recently posted..Listen Up! (13)My Profile

  2. You and Rachel pretty much summed up my feels about this.

    Only much more coherent and kind because I’m still struggling with my anger over the ending.
    Lisa is Busy Nerding recently posted..Oh yeah, it’s my birthday.My Profile

  3. I haven’t read FAKING NORMAL yet, but it was certainly interesting to read your thoughts. I’m glad that it was able to tackle rape from a different angle, but it also makes me a little sad that some of the things don’t seem to play out in a realistic way.
    Alexa S. recently posted..It Takes Two || February 2014My Profile

  4. It’s so interesting to see a review from someone who actually understand the process more than the average person. I honestly didn’t know some of the things you pointed out, though I did wonder how Bodee managed to just move in with them.
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  5. Anonymoose says:

    I have not read this book yet but do intend to do so within the next day or two.

    I would just suggest that you keep an open mind about just how much a victim’s own self-loathing, guilt, humiliation, and general avoidance can prevent a therapist, or anyone else, from even knowing the root issue a teen is facing.

    Some of us made it well into adulthood “faking normal” and talking about things in the raw is near impossible until you can handle living with yourself.

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