Review: Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens

I received an ARC from the author.

I’ve been wrestling with how to write this review for months. On the one hand, anyone that follows me on Twitter knows it’s no secret that Courtney Stevens is one of my dearest friends. Can you really objectively review a book written by one of your dearest friends? I don’t know. Maybe not.

But on the other, I loved this book with my whole heart, and it’s only partly to do with my love for Courtney. When I read it, it gave me goosebumps thinking of how many people’s lives would be touched once it was out in the world. So I simply must talk about it. And this is my blog, so I’m gonna.

As a sidebar: Courtney is going on tour in a couple weeks with Robyn Schneider, Kate Cotugno, Melissa Kantor, and Lauren Oliver. If you can make it to one of their tour stops, you should. Even if you’re not sure if you can handle the heavy subject matter of FAKING NORMAL, Courtney is one of those people I wish everyone could meet. She has a beautiful, beautiful heart, and is a wonderful encourager to everyone around her. So if you’re on the fence about the book, or you love the book, or you have no interest in the book – go to the tour anyway. (Read here about her inspiration for FAKING NORMAL.)

Plus, I hear the other four authors – and their books – are lovely. I’m really bummed that the tour isn’t coming to Nashville, even though I see Courtney pretty regularly, because those other four books sound pretty amazing too, don’t they?

SO now that I’ve totally embarrassed Courtney (who may not even read this because she KNOWS I will totally embarrass her), let’s get to the review, shall we? Which I promise I will try to make as objective as possible.

The Plot (from Goodreads):

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.

My Thoughts:

FAKING NORMAL is one of those books that sucks you in from the first page and doesn’t let you go. It’s a quiet, introspective story, but the connection I felt with the characters and the truth that radiated from every page made it impossible to put down. Alexi isn’t like me, but her voice rang so true that I practically felt like I was her. No matter your personal experience going into FAKING NORMAL, she is written with such honesty that it’s impossible not to empathize with her. Even when she’s making bad choices. Even when she’s hurting herself. Even when she’s too petrified to speak up, no matter how much she should.

Alexi isn’t strong in the way we often think of “strong characters.” She is broken and she is scared and she is silent. She doesn’t seethe about what happened to her, she doesn’t cast blame on the people who wronged her, and justice doesn’t fuel her. She carries her burden alone, even though it weighs her down, because she feels she has no other choice. And though I spent the book yearning for her to take action and seek justice — because that’s what happens in books, right? — her strength was in her empathy, her selflessness, and her perseverance in putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t that her actions (and often, inactions) were right or healthy — arguably, they were neither — but that while some people would completely shut down after an ordeal like Alexi’s, she keeps going.

Then there is Bodee, who also doesn’t fit into the typical YA hero mold. He has his own struggles and fears and doubts, and he needs Alexi just as much as she needs him. He doesn’t swoop in and fix her problems, and she doesn’t fix his. Rather, they help each other find the strength to face the dark marks on their own souls. Readers will love Bodee not for his strong jaw and chiseled abs (neither of which he actually possesses…at least not in my mind), but for his gentle heart and quiet encouragement. I appreciated that Bodee was a friend more than a love interest, and that romance never dominated the story. FAKING NORMAL is a story of friendship and loss and betrayal and hardship and healing, and while there is romance, it is at most a supporting character, never the star.

FAKING NORMAL tackles difficult topics without ever seeming like an “issues” book. It’s not a “self-harm book” or a “sexual assault book” or a “domestic violence book,” even though at the surface, one might assume it is. But at its core, FAKING NORMAL isn’t about events and moments and trauma. It’s about healing and friendship and trust. It’s about finding light in the darkness, strength in unexpected places, and triumph in moving forward. It’s about being honest with yourself, and with the people who love you.

FAKING NORMAL isn’t the easiest book to read — although the clean, truthful prose certainly helps — but it’s worth the pain and the tears. While the events of Alexi and Bodee’s pasts are not universal (although for too many, they are), every reader can find themselves in the pages of FAKING NORMAL. Maybe not in action, but in heart. Everyone has dealt with dishonesty and helplessness and heartbreak, and everyone can use the (not so) occasional reminder to channel their brave.

I’ve read a lot of Contemporary YA fiction that was good, moving, even inspiring. But as I was turning the pages of FAKING NORMAL, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this book was something special. Important. Empowering. I remember thinking, “I can’t wait until this book is in the hands of teenagers and can start changing lives.” Because I really believe it will.

Fortunately, I don’t need to wait much longer. It comes out tomorrow (February 25, 2014), and you should check it out. I can’t recommend it enough.