Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens is the story of two teens who are facing some very difficult life issues. We begin at a funeral where Bodee Lennox has just watched his abusive father strangle his mother to death. As he leaves, Alexi goes and sits silently with him on a bench. In this moment, the two form a bond of mutual support. They are both Faking Normal, trying to make it through each day.
Alexi thinks that she is Faking Normal, hiding what happened over the summer, but she isn’t doing a very good job of it. At night she hides out in her closet and scratches her neck hoping the outside pain will make the inside pain stop for a moment. She’s having a hard time saying no, and she keeps finding herself dating boys to make her friends happy. But what she wants is the safety of the mysterious Captain Lyric, the boy who writes music lyrics on her desk for her.
1) Acknowledging the Spiritual Lives of Teens
I often lament that there is not enough discussion in non-Christian YA about the spiritual lives and questions of teens. Yet in Faking Normal, there is lots of acknowledgement of the fact that these kids go to church, their families are in prayer groups, they take meals to church members, etc. It is there, it is authentic, and it is not preachy or belittling; it’s just a reminder that for many teens, church is a very real part of their lives.
2) An Intact Family – Gasp
Alexi comes from a home where both parents are present, seem to be happy, and are very supportive. They are not perfect, but the issues are normal squabbles and such. If you read much YA, you know this is like a breath of fresh air.
Alexi has an older sister who acts in much the way that sisters act: she torments her, fights with her, harasses her. BUT, when the moment is called for, Alexi’s sister really steps up to the plate. And she has the best line in the entire book, which I can’t reveal to you because it is very spoilery. I love the very realistic depiction of how sisters will mess with each other but stand up for each other when the moment calls for it.
Throughout Faking Normal it is slowly revealed that Alexi has been the victim of some type of sexual violence. Bodee seems to get that something is going on with Alexi and he is very respectful and delicate in his approach to her. There is a scene where the two are dancing together and he barely touches her, until she tells him that he can touch her more. And at one point and time he asks if it is okay if he kisses her. The interactions between Alexi and Bodee are really quite moving in the way they are drawn to each other in their pain and the slow, steady way they learn to talk to and support one another. It’s not always smooth, but it is such a great, realistic relationship. This title goes straight to the sex and consent positive YA lit list.
Faking Normal ends with a note of hope that many other titles dealing with sexual violence often don’t. Alexi reveals what has happened to her and there is a sense that she is being supported and that she will find a way to be okay. It is very clearly demonstrated in the storytelling that this is something that was done to her, that she is not at fault, and that it doesn’t reflect on her. She doesn’t feel that way in the beginning, as most rape victims don’t, but she comes to understand this and the message is reinforced by the reactions of others.
I highly recommend this book. I will admit that at one point I was mad at every single character in this book. There is a character named Hayden whom I despise, he is the epitome of everything that consent is not, but he also serves as a good contrast when you compare him to Bodee. I also like that there is some good, strong female friendship in here. Honestly, there is so much to like here. Kirkus says this is “A story that resonates” and I completely agree (Kirkus 12/15/2013).