Sunday, November 23, 2014

Book Review: FAKING NORMAL by Courtney C. Stevens

Faking NormalFaking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the kind of brutally honest that reads like brave and a hug all rolled into one, which is odd. Hugs aren't brave. Somehow this is: a brave little hug, and I needed that.

Alexi and Bodee were perfect and created a nice foil to Alexi's sister Kayla and Kayla's on again off again boyfriend, Craig, who's practically family. I also enjoyed the well-developed friendships between Alexi, Heather, and Liz. Their car and classroom banter made for great reading and kept me turning pages.

This book is not afraid to face tough subject matter. It starts with a funeral. Alexi can't stop from scratching at her neck when she's overwhelmed by memories from what happened this summer, and she'd rather do anything than talk about it with anyone. So, instead, she counts the space between the vent above her bed, writes song lyrics on the desk in 4th period and waits for "Captain Lyric" to reply. She might even be falling for him, which is a whole lot better for Alexi than the line up of boy bait Heather keeps parading before her. Dane, Hayden, the football team. Or maybe she'd be more comfortable with Bodee. After all, she can't seem to lie to him, even when he notices things no one else does. And when Bodee moves in as Alexi's mom's pet project, things between Alexi and Bodee are all kinds of awkward and extremely close at the same time. They've got a great friendship going, and if Alexi isn't careful, she could ruin everything that's working for her.

As bits and pieces of Alexi's past unfold, several possible suspects come forth as the likely culprit of who hurt Alexi bad enough to make her want to keep hurting herself for not stopping him. Why can't she say no? Why can't she speak up for herself? What's beneath the surface, that she keeps trying to scratch at to come out? Will we ever figure out the truth?

Well, truth does have a way of working its way to the surface, but not in the way you'd think. The special code language of song lyrics is one avenue. It's somehow safe to use what's said (and especially what's unsaid) in song lyrics, that allows Alexi and Captain Lyric to discuss these unspoken matters that trouble her so, and on the top of that list: Who is Captain Lyric? So, we've got to figure out who hurt her, and who Captain Lyric is, and while we're at it, which boy is right for Alexi? Who should she got to prom with? This is where it all gets good.

Alexi can put on a good front. She "Fakes Normal" with the best of them. But underneath the veneer, she's got a lot to sort out and face, if she can channel brave long enough to find her voice and speak the truth. As Alexi and Bodee grow closer, they help each other to find a way to speak to those dark places neither wants to face, and Alexi's tree fort is a great and safe place to start.

I was shocked by the ending, and found the way the story resolved hugely satisfying. I am amazed by this debut, and I've added Courtney Stevens to my short list of "auto read" authors. FAKING NORMAL is a must read, and should be required reading for high schools, who need to talk about this important topic.

I think my heart was stabbed with knitting needles a few dozen times by all that happens between Alexi, and Bodee, the KoolAid Kid, named for the way he changes hair colors like jeans. I sure hope we're not done with these characters. I see there's a prequel, but I need a duology to find out what happens next. There was a start, but definitely not a finish. So much left wide open to figure out, and I'm betting on a slightly different response from Mom and Dad, so there's that. What a stunning and well-articulated debut, full of subtle nuances, and brilliant characters I won't soon forget. Breathtaking and beautiful.

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