Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #58: Faking Normal

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

Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #58: Faking NormalFaking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens
Published by HarperTeen on February 25, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
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two-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.

Recommended by: Scott Pilgrim (Scott Reads It)

Faking Normal is a book I was initially going to pass over, due to my blurb test which says that if it’s a contemporary novel and the characters all have strange names I probably won’t like it. However, the early reviews have been fantastic, and then Scott put it in my Sadie Hawkins pile right around the time I got auto-approval from Harper on EW. This book and I were meant to be, I thought! Um, no. We weren’t. Courtney C. Stevens’ debut didn’t really work for me, not because I think it’s a bad book, but because of my personal interests and reading history.

There will be some discussion of the spoiler that is made pretty obvious by the blurb, but any others will be spoiler tagged.

Before I get into what will probably be a bit of a ranty discussion, I do want to say that I think this is a good book. Maybe not ideal for me, but I suspect it will move a lot of other readers. Faking Normal was very readable. I never thought about DNfing, even when I was struggling. It’s compelling and thought-provoking. I’ve had several discussions about this book already and will no doubt have more. Though my rating isn’t high, I do respect books that make me think and really evaluate complicated issues in a new light. Stevens did this, and I think that’s fantastic.

While definitively being a YA novel, Faking Normal follows the basic NA formula, which was a bit of an odd thing to notice. Two broken people find each other and heal through their relationship, though without the sexy times, because it’s YA and it’s usually frowned upon (for the record, not by me). Alexi was raped over the summer and, rather than telling anyone, she scratches the back of her neck until it bleeds. Bodee’s abusive father killed his mother, and, having witnessed it, he has to testify against his father. Both of them are having trouble finding their words. They both also have really annoying names, but oh well.

I actually love books about hard issues like this, but I feel like that much broken is hard to tackle in a single book. Stevens does a decent job by the end, and she does come to some really healthy thoughts at the end, mostly coming from Bodee. However, I still feel like both of them sort of magically heal at a certain point. She helps Bodee, but, when she has her breakdown, he’s suddenly not really suffering anymore to get her through her plot arc. She’s not dealing and then she sees a bird and BAM she’s ready. Neither of them gets counseling or anything, and this worries me.

My issues stem primarily from Alexi. I’m going to be honest. I really have trouble understanding her. Partly, it’s because she’s very different from me: reserved, popular (even though she’s not interested, all the hottest guys are lining up to take her out), Christian, and very southern. Partly though, my dislike of her stems from the way that Stevens misleads the reader to create the book’s painful reveal of what actually happened to Alexi over the summer. The next paragraph will delve into that, but so NOT open this spoiler unless you mean it because it is serious business.

View Spoiler »

There were also a lot of lines that I simply didn’t care for, like this one:

I know these two weeks have been God walking right into my life like he was flesh and Kool-Aid-colored hair. The gospel according to Bodee Lennox. His safety. His protection. And love.

Now, I like Bodee. I do. Actually, he’s the only character I liked. He’s a smart kid, and he drops necessary truth bombs. However, he is a bit deus ex Bodee. And, also, bleh if God is doing this then what is free will and UGH. I just don’t like this sort of stuff. If you do, awesome, but it’s not for me.

Alexi also indulges in some occasional slut-shaming. That’s not really the point of the book I don’t think, but I found it upsetting, particularly since she didn’t apply the same rules to her friends. There’s also this from the opening of chapter two;

What should I write about today? The funeral? Girls who talk to boys they don’t really know? Sex? Girls’ fear of sex? No. I’ll keep the illusion intact, since most guys would rather believe girls are just as horny as they are.

Excuse me. How long have we been trying to get this myth that girls don’t have sex drives out of here and then this? I understand that she has issues and that her rape is a big factor in why she thinks this way and judges all the girls who aren’t her friends for having sex lives, but I am introduced to her through this stuff first, with the knowledge coming later. Plus, there’s not a point where she really comes to any healthy realizations. These sorts of comments, the narr0w-minded ones predisposed me to not like Alexi, and I never really warmed to her, even though no girl should have to go through what she did.

Faking Normal reminded me heavily of Speak, Pretty Girl-13, Fault Line, and If You Find Me. Sadly, I preferred the way the other books handled their particular similar subjects. However, if books like this are up your alley or you haven’t read all four of those books, Faking Normal might work better for you than it did for me.

Favorite Quote:

Funny how people value eyes, when really, their colors are super limited. I doubt anyone would enjoy a new box of crayons if they came only in eye-color shades.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

not okay Speak

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8 responses to “Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #58: Faking Normal”

  1. Kelly says:

    What is with all of these names? o.O I think I’ll be avoiding this for that reason alone!

    I read your spoiler tag and feel like that would have really bothered me, especially if I felt, like you, that it was a ploy to manipulate my emotions.

    But your comments about it being thought-provoking and something you’ve already discussed, and will discuss further, make me curious.
    Kelly recently posted…Pretty Little Discussion: CommentingMy Profile

  2. I cackled at your reaction to the names, but you speak truth. Those names kept tripping me up so like I renamed Alexei to Alexa because that is a normal name. And kind of glossed over Bodee.

    And Collie made me think of a dog. So I kept picturing Lassie.

    And lol, I totally cheated and thus the spoiler rant never happened for me because I read the book knowing who the rapist was.

    And yes, the magical healing? That does not happen in real life. I am speaking from a position of knowledge and authority on this topic.

    Great review, it makes me feel relieved and no longer like the odd one out regarding this book.
    April Books & Wine recently posted…Allison: Christmas in Snowflake Canyon | RaeAnne Thayne | DNF ReviewMy Profile

  3. Aww sorry to hear that this one wasn’t for you! I’ve been seeing a lot of fantastic reviews for Faking Normal so far so I suppose it’s a good thing to balance out all of the positive reviews. I can definitely see how this book follows that NA formula though, from how two broken characters end up falling in love and healing through the relationship before something traumatic serves as the true turning point. I can also understand how you may not have been able to relate to Alexi’s character, especially if she was so different. But I’m really glad that you enjoyed Bodee’s character! Fantastic review, as always, Christina! <33
    Eileen @ Singing and Reading in the Rain recently posted…Feminist Sunday (5): AdvertisementsMy Profile

  4. Gillian says:

    Yeah, I think I’ll stick to reading Speak, which is one of my favorite books of all time. (I cannot get past the names or the accidental slight slut-shaming or the SPOILER, since I spoiled myself.)
    Gillian recently posted…Book Haul, or the One With the Random Random House Package Randomly at My HouseMy Profile

  5. I’ve seen so many mixed reviews for this one. I understand where you’re coming from though. I find the need to use eccentric names to be annoying – never mind that I actually know someone named Bodee! hah.

    And I made the decision to read your spoiler and I don’t even know what to say about that. It sounds so… messed up for lack of a better description right now.

    As per usual, great review, Christina.
    Lisa (Fic Talk) recently posted…Comment on Blog Tour & Review: Asking for Trouble by Tessa Bailey by LisaMy Profile

  6. Rachel says:

    I could write a really long rant about this book, but I will save you from that. I had a similar reaction, though to different things. I think this is the kind of book that will work well with specific readers, rather than a large audience. I also think that age/life experience will also play a role. Like, I had a million issues with this book, but I think I probably would have reacted differently had I not had the life I do (if that makes sense). I don’t know. I did enjoy the writing, at least.
    Rachel recently posted…Something Real Blog Tour – Interview with Heather Demetrios! (+ a Giveaway!)My Profile

  7. Becky says:

    Thank you for this honest review of Faking Normal. I felt the same way about this book as you did and it is nice to know that I am not the only one who doesn’t have a rave review of this book. I do agree with the previous poster that perhaps I would have liked this book better if I was a young adult.

  8. I ran across your review since I finally just read this book. I really enjoyed (or as much as you can enjoy a book about rape and domestic violence), but I thought that Alexi knew the whole time who it was. I had it narrowed down to one or other, but was relieved when the reveal happened because it placed it more squarely in the no-doubt rape category. I did have some of the same reservations that you mention in the spoiler tag though. I was thinking it was an impossible situation for both parties.

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