Review: Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens


title:  Faking Normal

author:  Courtney C. Stevens

pages: 208

format: Hardcover

isbn/asin: 978-0062245380 

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 4/5 [in the genre] or 7.5/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  People who enjoyed The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, or similar books.  Teenagers and parents.  

will i read this author again?:  Definitely. 
will i continue the series?:  N/A 

My Ratings Explained

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.

take home message
A refreshingly different, raw take on the price of silence and the complex issues surrounding sexual assault and rape.  Compelling, beautifully written, and psychologically real.  

For more about the issues in this book, check out my post about rape and consent in Faking Normal.

the basics
Prepare for rambling.  Despite being a somewhat predictable book, it's also a very enjoyable one--and there were enough surprises to keep me by my toes.  It's difficult to say that a book about rape is "enjoyable" in the strictest sense, but what is enjoyable is the journey of Alexi to her voice and her slow relationship with Bodee.  I found myself racing through it, compelled less by the mystery of Alexi's attacker than her recovery story.  She's silenced, coping through counting, scratching her neck, other traumatic OCD symptoms I found very well drawn.  Bodee as Kool-aid-kid is a little gimmicky, but also refreshingly respectful and level headed.  He's the poster boy for enthusiastic consent in a book that's all about broken boundaries.  His relationship with Alexi feels sweet and genuine.  Though some of the familial and friend relationships could be better explored, so much emotion was packed into Alexi's quiet introspection.  Though with its own moments of melodrama and clumsy plotting, Faking Normal is a fantastic discussion of the struggles of survivorship and the blurred boundaries and hostile contexts contributing to modern sexual violence.  Bound up in a package that's accessible for teens and, I think, still thought-provoking for adults. 

plot . 4/5
Overall, it's compelling.  You're given the mystery of Alexi's haunting past summer.  A rape she couldn't say no to.  A secret no one knows.  Everything turned topsy turvy when a schoolmate's mother is murdered by his abusive father and Alexi's loving mother decides to take him in.  It's one of those situations that could be contrived, except it just feels okay here.  I buy Alexi's mother as the kind of person to take in the lost puppy.  Then we follow Alexi and Bodee through months of school, awkward flirting, almosts, sweet and heartfelt conversations.  I also loved that so much room focused on Alexi's strained relationships with her friends (and I loved that she classified herself as the "second best friend").  This is very character driven, with so much of the action happening in inward epiphanies and moments of growth.  There's also the mystery (Who was the attacker?  What happened that night?).  Some people found it gimmicky, like being strung along.  I didn't really mind, because for me, the focus was less on "who" than on what Alexi was experiencing in the aftermath.  The only bit I disliked was the lack of foreshadowing.  Alexi's reactions around the culprit aren't fully realistic.  And while others have hated the ending, I found it realistic, though unsatisfying.  Given the context, I can see why Alexi chose what she did.  

Some bits are less well-executed.  Some of the reasoning behind Alexi's failure to say "no" to her rapist is a little too neatly packaged and not all that sensical.  There's a weird epiphany moment (a moment I found very contrived) in which Alexi recalls a childhood event that, to her, explains the whole issue with her voice.  I found it very un-nuanced.  I think there were so many larger issues that could have led her to freezing in that attack that would have been more interesting.  Making it neat just felt cheap.  Also, while I loved the tension between Alexi and her sister, I wanted more.  Why were they like this?  What compels her sister to react, as she does, during the final reveal?  There are some family dynamics missing.  I also found it a little strangely how quickly Bodee sees through Alexi's mask and how big a deal she makes of it.  It's too quick.  Then there's the Captain Lyric bit: Alexi and her mysterious loverboy who shares songs with her on their desk.  It's very Disney Channel and ends how you'd expect, but I liked the rest enough to kind of wave it away as over-cuteness.  

concept . 5/5
Many books deal with the aftermath of a rape victim's decision to speak out.  Like Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Faking Normal deals with the decision not to speak.  Only Alexi's story is not just a derivative of Anderson's classic.  In this case, no one knows what happened to Alexi but her.  She's not a pariah.  She sees her attacker every day.  She's a wounded girl who feels that speaking up would ruin her family, so instead she's put on a face.  The realism of her post-traumatic symptoms was also spot-on.  You don't see many good depictions of post-traumatic OCD in fiction.  I actually can't think of one.  Alexi's hiding in her closet, her counting, her neck-scratching is a new and very realistic look at some lesser known reactions to trauma.  There are also some great points raised about a girl's feeling of ownership over her own body and complexities in modern-day consent and sexual convention.  You just have to look a little deeper into what's happening.  

characters . 4/5
I thought Alexi was a great character.  She's totally believable to me.  She feels absolutely real, like Stevens did her homework--and perhaps was drawing on her personal experience.  She's vulnerable in some ways, hiding in her own skin, battling to keep her environment normal even though the silence is shredding her from inside.  She's also funny and kind.  And she's not perfect.  Many reviewers have pointed out how she slut-shames her friend Maggie, and she does.  It's not admirable, but it's a realistic flaw--and so interesting, given her own history.  Then there's Bodee, antithesis of Alexi's abusers: sweet, respectful, insightful, more mature than his age, and just a little snarky.  Though, he's a bit too perfect a healing force, doing so much for Alexi while neglecting his own trauma.  I wanted more of his story.  But it is Alexi's story, and though Bodee saves her a little too much, she begins to grow stronger through the story, turning the tables on him and fighting against his dangerous coping mechanisms just as he fights hers.  The best part is how sweet and innocent their relationship is.  Sleeping together with shoes on.  Asking, quite politely, for a kiss.  And Bodee gains major points by standing up for himself when he needs to.  

Alexi's friends are pretty well drawn.  Heather is mouthy and owns her sexuality.  Liz is quiet, sweet, and hyper-dedicated to the Christian ideals around sex without being judgey.  Alexi's relationship with them is interesting in that she's the "second best friend".  Or feels that way.  But it's clear as the book goes on that despite some callous actions on Heather's part and some silence by Liz, both girls see a change in Alexi and are waiting for her to be ready.  It's a friendship that felt very accurately sixteen.  Some of the boys are flatter.  Collie doesn't get much air time despite allegedly being Alexi's former bestie and Hayden is pretty generic.  Craig becomes clearer as time goes on, but I'd have liked a little more.  Same with Alexi's sister.  Like I said, she's a great character, vindictive and blunt with a little soft spot, but she needed more backstory to back it up.  The Christian-ness of the main characters is also pretty cool.  I'm not religious myself, but it's nice to see Christians portrayed as normal people instead of bible thumpers.  Alexi herself is religious and her struggles with questions of God after her trauma are a compelling addition.  

style . 4/5
Stevens' style is pretty gorgeous.  She reminds me a bit of Chbosky, in a weird way.  There's a mix between naivete and maturity in Alexi's narrative.  Some of the lines are truly incisive and beautiful.  But Stevens is pretty good at not getting too flowery or old.  Some of the best lines are still strewn with teenage slang and sound age-appropriate, while still being profound.  That said, she goes a little overboard with some of the metaphors.  Enough for a few cringes.  But it's very solid writing, lovely even, and it kept me reading even when the plot hit snags.  

mechanics . 4/5
Not much to complain about here.  Like I said, there were some weird plot holes.  Captain Lyric felt pretty gimmicky.  I wasn't crazy about some of the foreshadowing.  But the writing couldn't be cleaner.  

Note: I purchased this copy.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.


  1. I really like the special discussion at the end because most people don't understand why things like this happen why she just didn't say NO and often when they're uncomfortable with what happens they turn to victim blaming as you mentioned in your post about it discussing things like this really help people understand that it's not always in the victims control to prevent or stop a situation

    1. I now see it was not at the end of the review but a separate post it just appeared that way in the email so just wanted to clear that up~

    2. Thanks! I was just SO compelled to write something really dealing with it after seeing so much victim blaming and misunderstanding in the reviews. I hope it helps at least a few people understand a different perspective. (No prob! It actually was at the end to begin with.)