Title: Faking Normal
Author: Courtney C. Stevens
Rating: 4 Stars
Release Date: February 25th, 2014
Lately, I’ve grown very cynical. At least when it comes to Young Adult Contemporary. It’s no secret that I am constantly let down by this genre, my expectations of the reality it will expose shattered by over-used tropes, love triangles, and an ironic dose of the unreal. When Faking Normal fell into my hands, it was with little, or no, expectations at all that I cracked open its spine. Stevens’s debut already seemed a little too familiar; the girl on the cover, the gorgeous font, the too damaged protagonist. And, in many ways, Faking
is not a new story. It’s not meant to be, though. Instead, Faking Normal is the novel I’ve wished so many preceding titles could have been and, in my eyes, to finally tell a story the right way, without romanticizing a traumatic situation, is more profoundly moving than anything else. Normal
Sadly, the first thing to stand out to me about Faking
is the fact that the main character, Alexi, and her two best friends, Liz and Heather, discuss sex. Extensively. And in a manner that is utterly nonchalant, proving how perfectly normal this occurrence is. For a novel that deals with rape and domestic abuse, it says a lot about this genre that a healthy discussion about sex with girlfriends is what stands out. Needless to say, it’s a rarity in this genre, though it should not be. Stevens never shies away from the plethora of “taboo” topics that girls discuss and, frankly speaking, the friendship between these three girls is refreshing. First and foremost, it is honest and real, never sugar-coating the complex relationships among these teens and, most importantly, treating their hurdles as insignificant. Although Alexi, Liz, and Heather all have their own set of stereotypes associated with them, as the novel wears on and secrets are revealed, it is proven that no one – and especially no one girl – fits the label she is given and that is okay. I find that this is a universal theme that truly needs to be emphasized more often, especially with modern-day media selling girls as one type or another. As the layers to these three friends are slowly peeled back, the raw truth is all the more beautiful as it arrives hand-in-hand with acceptance. Normal
Nevertheless, while friendship is certainly a strong, and prevalent theme, throughout the novel, the bulk of Faking Normal deals with the trauma that Alexi and the boy-next-door, Bodee, have faced. When Bodee’s father murders his mother in a violent situation of domestic abuse, Alexi’s parents invite Bodee to live with them, particularly as Alexi and Bodee’s mother were best friends. While Alexi doesn’t know what to think of the Kool-Aid Kid whose hair is a different color every day, she learns to trust him as he recognizes the scabs on the back of her neck and keeps her secret. Both Alexi and Bodee, however, are unable to own up to the darkness inside of them. For Bodee, turning his father in seems like a no-brainer, but is surprisingly difficult. And for Alexi, even accepting the fact that she was raped this past summer – by someone she knew and trusted, no less – is even harder.
It is evident, throughout the novel, that Alexi is hurting; blaming herself for the rape, feeling an immense amount of guilt, and ultimately hating her perpetrator for stealing her virginity – something that she should have had the choice to give away. With her friends, Liz and Heather, discussing their own sexual encounters and first-times, Alexi cannot help but feel even more dirty and contaminated by her circumstances. In Bodee, however, she finds a true friend. Although Alexi and Bodee never become true confidants until much later in the novel, they help each other cope with their respective traumas. Bodee, for instance, attempts to wean Alexi off of the habit of picking at the skin on her neck just as Alexi tries to help Bodee feel safe enough so that he doesn’t feel the need to do pull-ups underneath the bed.
Stevens writes Faking Normal with such skill and poise that it is difficult to imagine this being only her first novel. Not only is her prose lilting and easy to lose yourself in, but it is sparse when needed and the words capture the raw emotions of these teenagers in a way nothing else possibly can. Although Bodee’s growth and hurt is only briefly touched upon throughout the story arc, we truly manage to delve inside Alexi’s head and heart, feeling her pain and sorrow and loneliness. While Alexi, unlike Bodee, still has her entire family with her, she is close with neither of them, least of all her sister Kayla whose dominating personality has always overshadowed her own. Thus, the relationship that blossoms between Bodee and Alexi, one of trust and friendship, carries so much weight throughout the novel. Moreover, the subtle romance that occurs between the two is understated, but heart-felt. For me, the best part is that the words “I love you” are never uttered – it doesn’t need to be. Faking Normal is so much more a story about the heavy weight and comprehension of complex emotions than the words that make them up, which is beautiful.
Stevens’s debut is a raw, gritty, and often brutal contemporary. None of the relationships in this novel are simple and the path towards healing is constantly a challenge, one step back for every two steps forward. It isn’t a dark, or even heavy read, however. Filled with the bustle of daily high school life, flirty jocks, and even a mysterious desk-writer nicknamed “Captain Lyric,” Faking Normal manages to be wildly entertaining, all while touching upon serious subjects in a poignant manner. I am, rarely, impressed by Contemporary YA, but this novel is worth every penny. I hardly need to say it, but if I do, then pre-order this one at once – it’s going to be a definite favorite this year. I can just tell.