Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens (2014)
Suggested age range: 13 and up (Harper Teen, 321 pages)
Rating: 5/5 stars
Source: Personal Copy
“If a heart can smile, mine does.”
The Book: Sixteen year old Alexi Littrell has endured something terrible over the summer, and she won’t share it with anyone. She hides her feelings and scratches her neck to distract herself from the pain of what happened to her. When she begins to develop a friendship with Bodee, a fellow classmate, who comes to live with Alexi and her family, there is hope that Alexi may one day be able to share the truth, heal, and move on. Both Alexi and Bodee have experienced pain related to their secrets, but with each other, they face an opportunity to be authentic and honest. It is within friendship and family that one should feel safe, but will Alexi ever be able to find that safety again?
Spirituality in Faking Normal: Alexi is part of a religious family, and the book engages with both religion and spirituality in a refreshing way. What I liked is that Stevens doesn’t sugarcoat what it means to grow up within a Christian family. She also depicts realistic teenage voices from both religious and non-religious families. For example, there is often strife between Alexi and her older sister, Kayla within their religious household; Stevens shows through her narrative that religious families have just as many issues as those who are not religious. At the same time, there is a spirituality about the story related to a deep and authentic connectedness between friends (and family) and there is also the notion that even though bad things can happen to good people, there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel. Some good discussion could come out of reading this book including speaking up about abuse, self-worth, and reaching out to those who aren’t like us.
Who Should Read This Book: Young adult readers who need encouragement (and who doesn’t?) should read about Alexi’s journey to knowing who she really is as a person and being able to stand up for herself. The book is also a good choice for adults, who might become more aware of how young adults hide their pain from others through Stevens’ depiction of the young adult world.
The Final Word: It was hard to not read this book in one sitting. I was drawn to Alexi’s story and wanted to know what choice she was going to make. I cheered her on, as she “channeled her brave,” and booed when people were less than kind to her. I was definitely invested in these characters, and I was especially satisfied with the way Stevens tied up the book. This is a tough and relevant issue to tackle in a story, I think, but Faking Normal is a fabulous example of how this can be done with sensitivity and realism. This is a book that brought up difficult issues, but I strongly recommend it and think it is an excellent example of how literature can heighten our sensitivity to others, especially those who are enduring or have endured abuse of some sort, even when we are not quite sure what to say. Just being present and listening to people can be significant. Bodee’s friendship with Alexi is a powerful example of that.