Young Adult, Realistic, Tough Topics
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published February 25th, 2014 by HarperTeen
Faking Normal is the story of Alexi Littrell and Bodee Lennox. But mostly Alexi. Over the summer, something happened to her. But not the good kind of something. This something has her insides tied up in knots. It has her compulsively scratching her neck until it bleeds. It has her awake at night. It has her seeking refuge constantly in her closet. She blames herself.
Then there’s Bodee (yes, that’s actually his name). He’s always been the quiet outcast at school. Now he’s Poor Bodee, the quiet outcast at school that everyone pities. Alexi and Bodee come to find themselves kindred spirits. They are both broken and faking normal but no can can see it but them.
The power of Bodee is in the way he reads me, sees through me, and then understands the truth behind the facade.
The story drew me in right away. From the first page you can tell that the protagonist Alexi is very broken. Her point of view is dark and jaded from the get go. Example:
What should I write about today? The funeral? Girls who talk to boys they don’t really know? Sex? Girls’ fear of sex? No. I’ll keep the illusion intact, since most guys would rather believe girls are just as horny as they are.
Throughout the story you get bits and pieces about what happened to make Alexi this way, but she never really comes out and says it until near the end. Stevens beautifully allows our full understanding to come alongside Alexi’s acceptance, and the discovery of her voice.
Throughout, the friendship between Bodee and Alexi sweetly develops as there are parts of themselves they seem to only be able to share with each other. They come to lean on each other in their struggles. Through this relationship, they try to find their inner strength and their voice.
I really like both of these characters and appreciate that their relationship doesn’t “fix” them. They simply learn from one another, push one another, and start to stand on their own. I also appreciate the way that Stevens portrays Alexi. To me it feels like a pretty accurate portrayal of someone who has gone through what she has. And it felt so rewarding when she finally allowed herself to be real with someone she trusts. Good ol’ Bodee.
I did, however, have a few difficulties with the portrayal of Bodee. He is a pretty good character, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of the times he did feel a little two-dimensional to me. He seemed pretty idealized and flawless.
Furthermore, I felt like the focus on Alexi issues, though the point of the story (since she’s the protagonist), seemed a little weird considering the sheer magnitude of what happened to Bodee. I think this would have felt more real if Stevens had dialled back the tragedy a bit where he was concerned. Honestly, a dead mom is enough to break anyone! But throw in all those other layers to her death, and it just seemed a little too much. I mean all that happened to Bodee, but he is still a functioning human who can even help Alexi come to terms with her issues and face them? What is he, a saint? I get the idea of two broken people helping fix one another is a good story. I like that. It’s great. But I feel that—again—the sheer magnitude of what happened to Bodee takes away from the central issues of the story rather than deepen them.
Moreover, I felt the mysterious aspect to the story was a little unnecessary. I was interested enough without the half-baked guessing game. It may have worked better, however, if some of the more convenient coincidences were omitted. Because… come on. That’s just too convenient.
BUT, all that being said, I loved this book. I devoured it! I think that everyone should read this book. No, it’s not perfect, but it gets people talking, and that’s a good thing. Maybe not everyone will love this book. But everyone will have something to say about it!
If you enjoy compulsively readable books that deal with tough topics, this one is definitely for you.
Content warning: Contains scenes of, and allusions to, rape, self-harm, and abuse.
Beth is the founder and editor of Fuelled by Fiction. She is a twenty-something east coast Canadian girl who loves writing about books and feminism.