When Bodee Lennox—"the Kool-Aid Kid"—moves in with the Littrells after a family tragedy, Alexi discovers an unlikely friend in this quiet, awkward boy who has secrets of his own. As their friendship grows, Alexi gives him the strength to deal with his past, and Bodee helps her summon the courage to find her voice and speak up.
Left Me Wanting More: I’ve read quite a few books based on rape and I have to say that this wasn’t as gripping or emotional as I was hoping for. Yes, it tackles the issue in a somewhat different way, and I appreciated that, it didn’t really get into the meat of the topic like I was expecting. It took awhile longer than I would’ve liked for Alexi to find her inner strength and courage and face what had happened to her, but in the end, I liked how she turned out.
Also, I really despised Alexi’s sister, Kayla. While she somewhat redeems herself in the end, through most of the book she was a downright witch and if she were my sister I would’ve slapped her for a lot of what she did and said. I was a bit surprised with how she acted in the end, because it really could’ve gone either way, and with the way the author went, I was hoping for more, but it was still acceptable.
Final Verdict: While I certainly had some issues with the story overall, I still read it pretty quickly and really enjoyed Stevens’ writing style. I knew early on who was behind it all, so the waiting around for the big reveal and resolution felt like it took forever, but I think Stevens took all the necessary steps for her character to come to that point in her life and face her demons. I’d say this book can fall into the higher up category of books in dealing with issue. It wasn’t the best, but it was definitely a good one.
With one troubled boy with Kool-Aid colored hair Courtney Stevens brings out a wide range of emotions in the reader. There is so much to say about Bodee, but I just can't find the best words to do it, so I'll tell you how he made me feel instead. "Bodee Lennox is never really anything. I'll bet most kids in our class didn't know his name before the murder. And yet his face is not expressionless the way I once thought." Bodee is full of feeling. He made my heart swell, my fists clench, he made me gasp and grit my teeth and I felt worry, anxiety, love, angst, and longing for that boy. Can you imagine what he made Alexi felt? You will. In moments like this: "'Don't you ever touch her again,' Bodee says." This was one of the most powerful scenes in the entire book. Bodee was there for Alexi. He was her blue-haired knight (or was it red that day?), and I am so glad he came to her rescue.
Alexi's friends are well-crafted secondary characters that add so much to the depth of the story. Heather and Liz are Lex's best friends. They're quite different from each other, and from Lex. They're believable, interesting, and have their own issues to cope with that add to the plot and Alexi's struggles, but don't take attention too far away from the main story. Their dialogue, in particular, is very well-written: "You're in somethin' with him. Like you're in somethin' with Bodee." Heather says this to Alexi one day in 4th period, when they're musing over Captain Lyrics latest message. It's just colloquial enough, without being too twangy, that we know Heather is a Southern girl and she has a particular way of saying things. I love it.
The twisty-turny plot reflects the maze of complex memories and emotions in Alexi's mind. This was a necessary and crucial plot device for the story, and it didn't feel faked or forced at all. It was very natural, real, well-written. Lex has a lot of things to keep straight, and she uses destructive ways to cope with her pain. At one point she thinks: "There's a hammer pounding on my brain that says I'm missing something. Have I forgotten other things? Other things that keep me silent?" It seems like forever, but it only takes months for Alexi's true memories to surface. She wouldn't have done it without Bodee's unwavering support and her own strength - channeling brave. But those memories, those twisty paths in our minds where we lock things down and bury them deep - we can all relate to that.
Courtney's writing style itself was very enjoyable. I liked her writing of Alexi's narration. I liked her unique attention to peculiar little details. One passage written on Alexi's way to a Halloween party was especially entertaining: "A dachshund outfitted like a hot dog trots beside a little boy who is Batman for the night. I don't remember Batman with a hot dog, but it makes me laugh to watch them take on the neighborhood." Of course, I have a dachshund, so I couldn't let this one go!
I really enjoyed FAKING NORMAL. I don't often read fiction about sexual abuse, but I knew I had to read this one. I was so glad I did. Alexi and Bodee are very brave, they have so much strength that they can pass on to readers. I would highly recommend this book for all teens, girls or boys.
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.
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.
Wow. Just, wow. This is one of those rare stories that kicks you in the feels and makes you smile all while making you wish you had your very own Kool-Aid Kid! ;)
Most YA Contemps deal with teenagers and their issues, many of which are so over the top they're nearly impossible to believe or relate to. Not so with FAKING NORMAL.
Courtney C. Stevens has given us a compelling story about two teens, Alexi and Bodee, both of whom are struggling with pretty heavy stuff in their lives, like death, self-mutilation and sexual assault. Alexi and Bodee are doing the best they can to just to survive even if that means pretending everything is okay. But things begin to slowly unravel for both of them and while it would be very easy for Stevens to drag her characters through the muck and leave them there, she doesn't. Instead, she gives them a chance to be brave, to speak up and she gives them each other.
Does this turn into a mushy "fix you" teen romance? No, which is another reason this story sets itself apart. While the relationship that develops between Alexi and Bodee is heart-achingly tender and sweet, Stevens writes them with enough maturity to know that they need to figure out their own issues first before they can "jump ahead" into a full-on romance. Together they make each other stronger and help each other start to heal.
What I loved most about this book was the hope it offers. Hope that, despite the bad things we experience, we are the ones who choose whether or not we allow bad things to define us or to make us brave.
Read this book and then go channel your brave!
This is definitely the kind of book that stays with you. Alexi’s voice, her confused thoughts, everything about her, just came off as so real that there were times while reading that my hands were shaking. This is a voice that could easily belong to someone you know.
There’s a lot of books out there that deal with rape but this is the first one I’ve come across that deals with the victim making excuses for her rapist. The ‘I let him’, the ‘he was hurt/vulnerable’, the ‘other than that night, he’s a good guy’. With all this, Alexi’s mind and thoughts are an understandable mess. I felt for her through the whole book.
Bodee, I definitely fell in love with him. He was so caring and gentle with Alexi, even while facing his own demons. The slow development of their friendship was absolutely amazing. Alexi’s two girlfriends, Heather and Liz, were also great characters. Very different from each other so each had their own voice and their own issues through the book.
One of the favorite things was how Alexi latched on to Captain Lyric, a person who had written a song lyric on her desk and when she wrote the next line, it became their thing. I completely understood her desire not to find out who was Captain Lyric because knowing would change everything.
I did suspect who the rapist was early on but that didn’t matter. It’s not a story full of twists, it’s about Alexi trying to come to terms with what happened to her. The writing, the pacing, the sensitivity to such hard topics, it’s really hard to believe this is a debut author. Courtney C Stevens is definitely someone to watch for.
Told entirely from 16-year-old Alexi's first-person present-tense point of view, we follow her increasingly failing efforts at feigning normalcy in the aftermath of being raped by someone she'd trusted. The 'whodunnit' angle of this story will no doubt be a bane to some—it honestly was to this reader at first. But eventually I was able to accept it as a realistic manifestation of Alexi's trauma that she would be blocking things out and default to interacting with the offender as though nothing had happened. I've seen some reviewers argue that it isn't reasonable that she would respond in such a way, but I've personally seen this same essential thing happen. Negative coping mechanisms aren't often readily logical, and not everyone responds to such abuse, betrayal, stress, and mental fracturing in the same manner. (i.e. Just because some can't relate with it (fortunately for them) doesn't make the depiction less feasible or realistic.)
Okay, now that I've taken some disclaimer time with the subject matter, lets move on to the actual story and style factors:
For a present-tense telling, this book didn't aggravate me nearly as much as that choice often does. I was caught up enough in the pacing, and the come-and-go inner psychosis of Alexi, I could get past the discomfort. Alexi herself is difficult to connect to—which I think is actually part of the point, as she is in a state of disconnect from herself and the reality she isn't ready to face. She's only partially there...and the part we are seeing is trapped in a mental feedback loop of adolescent angst and victim's guilt. But fortunately Alexi, and the reader by extension, are introduced to the enigma of Bodee early on.
Bodee was the reason I kept picking the book back up. A tortured 'old soul' of a different sort, he has his own trauma and guilt to deal with. Bodee's coping mechanisms involve keeping quiet to the point of invisibility, dying his hair with Kool-aid packets, and deciding to notice and patiently interfere with Alexi's self-destruction. His growth as the story progressed was probably the single strongest page-turning motivator, in this reviewer's opinion.
The writing voice is strong—well suited to YA without being shallow or short-sighted. On the down side...it felt as though metaphors came a bit too frequently, and felt hit-or-miss at times--some were powerful, but a few were distracting/confusing. Physical descriptions of characters—aside from Bodee—were also a bit sparse...and most of the side characters felt a bit flat. Although, these issues could possibly be interpreted a result of being locked so close into Alexi's questionably functional first-person perceptions. A related issue that did take me out of the story had to do with the semi-abrupt resolution and Alexi's narcissistic older sister...for which I can only explain with a properly hidden spoiler. (See full Goodreads review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/865508798?book_show_action=false)
But aside from that, I wasn't bothered by the lack of immediate justice as provided by the ending. That part was all too realistic. Abusers don't always face the vindicating consequences we might like to see rain down on them before the epilogue. And in the case of this story, the ending is really more the beginning of the end—with a few things left to be resolved but still blatantly in the works.
Overall, I would not only recommend to the general YA audience, but I would go out of my way to get this book for my goddaughters.
Courtney Stevens wrote a winner in Faking Normal. I was able to connect to Alexi, her pain was palpable and I totally relate with the putting on a mask and pretending like everything is okay on the outside when deep down there is pain. I don't share her particular pain of the past but there are things that I never wanted to talk about either, and put on that front. But her journey to realizing that she can trust her family and the right friends with her heart and her pain is so beautiful, watching her become strong enough to tell the truth and stand up for herself is amazing.
I think that Alexi's silence is all too common. That she thinks she can handle it, and that she doesn't want the pain to be out in the world. She thinks it is her fault which is also common in these cases. I think that in these aspects, it keeps it really realistic and makes her sympathetic to what others have experienced. She couldn't find her voice to say no, but she was crying. She blames herself in this way too, while I wished she would have made a clear word or pushed him away, if she didn't want it, it is rape. That is hard too, that fine line of letting it happen and it being rape. But I think with the obvious circumstances when you find out who, it is a line that never should have been crossed. They weren't in any sort of relationship and it wasn't a precedent. So, like I said, amazingly handled, and I think that it shows a new issue. When she was raped but unable to actually verbalize no. Her silence is such a theme in this book, and finding her voice is such growth in her.
And the circumstances for how it comes about is through Bodee. He is the underdog, the Kool Aid kid because he dyes his hair a rainbow of colors with Kool Aid and his painful past. He is quiet, awkward, but loyal to a fault. Over time as they are living in the same house, they begin to talk with each other or even just sit in silence together and they have a bond because they can recognize that pain beneath the surface. I loved everything about Bodee--that he doesn't have the need to fill silences, that he is strong, observant, and that he's a good guy. He steps in and talks with Alexi, lets her know that she can trust him and he proves himself as a friend over and over and going above and beyond what even a best friend might do. He is an ultimate book boyfriend and he is what made this a 5 star, amazing instead of just a 4, I love it. Because it is a friendship, a slow burn, a build up and anticipation. They want to help each other through their pain, give their fears and past a voice, help the other one be stronger.
"And I promise to stop whoever is hurting you."
I stand there barely breathing and he says something that sounds like "Even if it's you."
How can you not love a boy man like that? Life has shown him the hard way that it can be cruel but also beautiful and even when he didn't before, to stand up for who he cares about and help them get out of the way of pain. He is so well developed and fleshed out. Amazingness.
The story never lets up and there is character development and relationship progress at every turn. I thought that I had everything figured out but I didn't. There were things and twists that took me by surprise and ended up making it even more powerful. I read this literally in one sitting, and it kept this stay at home mommy who has to get up at 7am up until past 3 devouring these words and characters that stole my heart.
So, I saw on my dear friend blogger The Eater of Books (even though the issues didn't sit well with her, she like me loved Bodee) but she posed the question, why do people cut, that it didn't make sense to her personally. So, as I have experience with this, I ended up writing a novella, and thought that I would put it here since it relates to the book. So... I will chime in and say that the cutting-- the nails on the neck--scars on wrist, whatever, I have been there and done that. It really does provide a sense of relief if you have ptsd or depression or even something hard in the past.
It gives a sense of control, and release. I used to do it because I wasn't in control of what my parents did, where I lived, what other kids said about me behind my back, what my boyfriend did--if he paid attention to me, if he was mean to me, and even if I gave a voice to it, I couldn't really explain. I felt like I couldn't control anything, but I could control physical pain that I could feel.
YES, it has been mainstreamed as "emo" and therefore it really doesn't have some of the seriousness that it should. It can be a cry for help, but it most likely to the victim can be a physical marker of the emotional pain that they feel inside.
Maybe that explains a little better the why.
And back to the book. The ending is amazing and even though I didn't want to leave the characters because I loved them and wished for more time with them, every thing was wrapped up well. It gave that perfect balance of realistic, giving hope and healing as well as giving me a taste of what their truly happily ever after could be. I wouldn't want them to completely have it in a powerful, deep and emotional story like this, because that would be glossing over their problems instead of seeking true help and healing.
This kinda describes their ending, their friendship, their trust, their relationship.
I know we’re still broken. Both of us. But Bodee’s got the glue to make us whole. He is love.
- ARC, Faking Normal
Bottom Line: Powerful, emotional, and I related with Alexi and loved everything about Bodee.
Over the summer things abruptly changed for Alexi. Now, in order to keep her secret quiet, she must act normal. Act like everything is okay. But it's not okay. She seeks comfort in scratching her neck to try and dull the pain she's dealing with. She retreats to her safe haven, her closet whenever she can
Her friends Heather and Liz have no idea what's going on and Alexi knows she can't tell them. It would ruin everything for them as well. Alexi believes that she can keep this secret because she doesn't want her friends and family to have their worlds turned upside down as well.
Then comes Bodee Lennox. He was an unexpected surprise. He had his own demons to deal with and yet he was willing to help Alexi with hers.Slowly but surely Alexi begins to open up to him in a way that she hasn't been able to open up to anyone since the summer.
In so many YA books, authors put certain topics as taboo topics. Yet Courtney does not. These teenagers talk about sex openly and not in a disgusting way. There's no pressure to be in love before you have sex so it doesn't get all preachy, which I am extremely thankful for.
Before Alexi realizes it, she's grown stronger emotionally and she's ready to tell the world what happened. Even if it ruins the lives of her family and friends. She knows now that she has to do it. Bodee is the reason behind it. He encourages her to come forward with what she knows. He knows she doesn't want to but he also knows that she needs to tell everyone so she can begin the healing process.
As much as this story was about Alexi and her journey to begin the healing process, this story was also about Bodee and how he was going to be his mom's voice unlike before. Bodee was the standout character in this book. I loved him. Like a lot. He was amazing and the way he cared about Alexi was sweet without being cheesy.
I absolutely didn't like her older sister Kayla. She seemed very immature for being 8 years older than Alexi. Yet at the end of this book, she turned into the sister that Alexi desperately deserved which of course made me really happy.
Before I forget, I need to gush about the writing for a bit. How absolutely gorgeous it was. It reminded me a lot of Katja Millay's writing but Courtney still maintained her own voice in her writing. So it was beautiful, reminiscent of Katja Millay's writing but it was still unique which I really loved.
This book had all the feels and the amazing characters in it. It was an indescribable book. I am sure I'll have a hangover from this book for awhile. It was that amazing and sob inducing. So sob inducing in fact that I ran out of kleenex and had to sob in my sweatshirt sleeve. Five stars to this amazing contemporary debut.