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.