Published by Harper Teen on 25 February 2014
Genres: Dating & Sex, Emotions & Feelings, Family, Friendship, Girls & Women, Illnesses & Injuries, Love & Romance, Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, Social Issues, Young Adult
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Place(s) Traveled To: Rickman, Tennessee
First Line: Black funeral dress. Black heels. Black headband in my hair. Death has a style all its own.
***Spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk.***
I can not tell you how many times I wanted to bang my head or throw my book across the room during my read of Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens. Faking Normal is a book that I wanted to love, especially after meeting Stevens at an author event not long ago for she was just so nice and her book sounded so good. Perhaps I just built it up too much because I was mightily disappointed. First off the names were really off putting and I am growing tired of the trend that all names in a contemporary YA story need to be so strange and different. What is wrong with using normal every day names? But what bothers me the most is that Faking Normal was an easy read and with its subject matter it shouldn’t have been.
At its heart, Faking Normal is a story about rape and as such it should be a difficult story to read. The reader should be emotionally invested in Alexi’s story and Alexi herself should show some emotion. She shouldn’t be so passive and more concerned with protecting her rapist than with dealing with what happened to her. Alexi is such a non-character in that she never voices an opinion, she never says no, and she never takes an active role in her life. She sits around until her friends call her, if they don’t she assumes that they had something better to do and that its perfectly fine that she wasn’t included. She never once calls them or actively seeks them out.
With her rapist she is always super nice and accepting and never shows any reaction to what happened. Sure she scratches her neck but as a reader you never fully understand why because nothing seems to phase her. Her issues are presented as so minor that I often wondered why Bodee’s life traumas were pushed aside and often ignored even though he watched his father murder his mother. But he is often forced to put aside his feelings in order to deal with Alexi during the few moments she decides to have a reaction. But the things she reacts to are never the traumatic moments that you would think. Like when she almost lets her date have sex with her, something she intnernally says she doesn’t want, but yet she never once tells him no. If it wasn’t for Bodee then she’d have had sex with the guy.
Even during her rape, with people not too far away she never said no, she never called out, she never struggled. She never let on in any way that she wasn’t ok with what was happening. As a character Alexi, is super passive and just allows herself to be led. Her friends tell her to date, so she dates who they tell her too even if its not what she wants. She just walks around life having no real thoughts or opinions and she just seems more like a robot than a person.
Another thing that really bothered me about this book was the slut shamming and blame passing. Anytime a girl did anything even remotely sexual she was a slut or whore but a guy can cheat on his girlfriend and do whatever he wants and its ‘just something guys do.’ The excuse most often use to pass off a guys horrible behavior towards a girl was ‘he was drunk’, he was just being a guy, he was sad about losing the game, he was happy he won, etc…pretty much anything a guy did was ok and there was a good reason but a girl, nope…not allowed. It was just infuriating.
Faking Normal is also a bit a of a mystery as we don’t get told who Alexi’s rapist is until near the end of the story. There are lots of red herrings tossed up and times when Stevens seems to be pushing one character over another. But despite all the deflections I pretty much knew who it would be before the end of the first chapter. The rest was just smoke and mirrors and served more as a distraction to the fact that nothing was happening than in developing suspense about the big reveal.
There were also several creeptastic scenes with Bodee where he’d sneak into Alexi’s room to watch her sleep or hide under her bed. And as with Bella in Twilight she often found this sweet and endearing. No. Just no. The final straw though was the ending. Its this magical ending that really has no resolution to it. Bodee is healed but Alexi telling him he is. She is healed by seeing a bird. Her sister just immediately believes and accepts her sisters written declaration and puts aside years of animosity to hug her. And the rapist is allowed to just walk away with no consequences. For reals?? I just…I can’t. Just can’t believe this book.
The only thing saving Faking Normal from a 1 star rating is that it was well written. There were a few times when I thought about DNF-ing this book but then I’d read just one more paragraph and kept on reading. As I said above it was an easy read and so it didn’t take too much time to read it all the way through. But as I also said, this should not have been an easy read. It should have been difficult and raw and filled with emotion but instead it was very surfacey. Its as if there was this wall between me and the story and as a reader there was something pushing me away and preventing me from going too deep. Issues are never fully explored and everything is just tidied up too nicely. Will I read another Courtney C Stevens book? Right now I am on the fence and will have to wait until I read a synopsis before devoting any more time to her words.
Others who liked this more than I:
Mostly YA Book Obsessed: “Oh wow, I am blown away by how emotional this was! I was expecting it to be but it still blew me away. Seeing how Alexi would cope with her situation would break my heart a little bit more each time.”
Stay Bookish: “I think the portrayal of [Alexi’s] character, as a victim most of all, was interesting. Her attitude was far from ideal but it rang true nonetheless. The whole novel focuses on her facing demons and I thought the development in that area was real inspiring.”
YA Book Central (Lauren Thomen): “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.”