I hardly know where to begin with how much I loved this book. Authentic, unflinching emotional journeys, a compassionate and insightful look at the inner pain left behind after trauma, capable prose, fully realized characters, and a relationship that will have readers turning pages long after bedtime--these are just a few of the things that make for a story that is as honest as it is compelling.
I'll start with the basics of storytelling. The pacing is smooth, the tension builds nicely, and the clean prose make for an enjoyable read. Ms. Stevens' characters are fully developed, flawed people who will resonate with readers. Both the hero and the heroine have significant inner pain that is taking over their lives, despite their attempts to fake normal, and Ms. Stevens captures that pain with a deft insight that is as compassionate as it is unflinchingly honest. Readers who have dealt with trauma of any kind will find kindred souls in Lexi and Bodee, and readers still searching for a path toward healing will find a road map to use in their journey.
But beyond the mechanics of storytelling, what really makes this book stand out is the truth buried in the pages. Lexi is a perfect example of how abuse and rape culture silence victims. She moves through a cycle of excuses for her abuser, self blame, fear of reprisal if she tells the truth, and the conviction that she will ruin everything if anyone finds out--as someone with abuse in her past, I can testify that there isn't a false note in Lexi's character arc. Bodee, on the other hand, is the safe harbor, the one who can see what Lexi hides from others, and the voice of patient truth who consistently and compassionately refuses to allow the lies in Lexi's head to continue to flourish. He's the map-maker on the road to Lexi's healing, and in doing so, he is also the map-maker for readers who see themselves in Lexi and need the hope that they will not always self-destruct in silence.
It's rare that I find a book that I feel is important enough to recommend to every reader, but this is that book. Librarians need this on hand to give to the kid who is quietly falling apart while desperately trying to fake normal. Teachers need this for their classrooms. Parents need this for their teens. And every reader who has felt their secrets burn inside of them while they tried their hardest to convince the world that all was fine need this book.
Brilliant, insightful, and utterly compelling--FAKING NORMAL is the book everyone needs to read.