Title: Faking Normal

Author: Courtney C. Stevens ♥ @Quartland

Published: February 25, 2014

Publisher: HarperTEEN

Pages: 368

Source: Edelweiss

Summary from Goodreads: An edgy, realistic, and utterly captivating novel from an exciting new voice in teen fiction.

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.

Average rating on Goodreads (as of 11/19/2013): 

  • Christina loved this book. It tossed her feels on a tilt-o-whirl and she found that she didn’t want to let them off. It goes on her top shelf!

**Special Note:** An e-ARC of this title was provided by the publishers via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. However, that did not influence this review an any way. All thoughts, quotes, and opinions will be of this galley and not from the published version.

♥ Initial Thoughts and Rating: 5 glowing stars! At one percent, I updated my status on Goodreads with this, “Oh, man. This one is going to crack my chest wide open, isn’t it? *puts on a brave face*” If only I had known how true that update was going to be. This book made me run the gamut of feels and I’d like to think that I came out on the other side of Faking Normal with a better understanding of what it truly means to be brave. Courtney Stevens is an author whose future works I’ll definitely be on the lookout for in the years to come.

*TRIGGER WARNING:* This book deals with quite a few heavier,  more sensitive subjects. There are mentions of spousal abuse, sexual assault, and self-injury.

♥ The Lowdown: Alexi Littrell is in an everyday war with herself. Face forward, act normal, appear normal, be normal. After an event from the summer leaves her questioning everything she knew about safety and love, Lex gets really good at faking normal. She has everyone fooled except for Bodee Lennox, who is no stranger to the monsters that hide in plain sight. These two may inspire one another to face their own personal truths, but inevitably find that they had the strength to fight their own battles in themselves all along.

For me, Faking Normal is the story about being honest with one’s self and finding the courage you might not have known was hidden inside yourself at the darkest of hours and learning to confront your demons when the timing is right. But it’s also about understanding that even when you feel like the entire world is against you or that no one will understand, that there is always someone- or maybe even a few someones- that will have your back and help you fight your battles. You are never alone, no matter how lonely you feel.

That’s a forever change. I never understood how life could be so dramatically sectioned, but it can. And is. There is only after. And before.
quote taken from my eARC of Faking Normal at 2%

♥ My Thoughts: I WILL NOT SPOIL THIS BOOK! I read this book three or four months ago and I have literally opened this review post no less than a hundred times since then. Yet, each time I would exit back out because I just didn’t feel like I had enough words or even the right words to perfectly summarize how this book made me feel… which is nothing short of everything. Faking Normal seriously felt like it took all my emotions– happiness, hurt, love, loss, understanding, self-worth, bitterness, anger, giddiness, fear, loathing– and tossed them in the air and let them scatter and fall all around me. In the end, though, I was left with a sense of calm hopefulness, my heart filled with a love for characters like I haven’t experienced after a book in quite some time.

Sadly, I know not everyone will connect to this story or even understand Alexi, and that kind of breaks my heart. They won’t understand her struggle and won’t quite grasp how harsh her reality is and exactly why she struggles with her secret instead of just telling. In certain situations, the line between what is right and wrong can get a little muddled, and it’s not as easy for a person to see that it is wrong, only that it maybe feels wrong, especially when you’re right in the middle of it. I, however, connected with her on a personal level, and I appreciated the depth and honesty in which Ms. Stevens handled hers and Bodee’s situations. Often times when authors use these raw, grittier issues as a plot point in their novels, it’s easy to feel like they’re using a story so close to my heart as a way to sell books or for that “wow” factor. Some do it well and you can tell they’ve at least put in the effort to research all the ways a person can be affected by such a traumatic event, but even then, it feels like it lacks those little extra details to make me a true believer in the story they’re trying to sell me. (I can spot a bullshit story a mile away, just saying.) However, Stevens gave me a novel that never felt trite, and I believe that had everything to do with her not giving us a cookie-cutter ending and trying to put pretty decorations (a steamy romance) on a crumbling cake (a girl and a boy trying to keep their head above water). She gave this story-line all the attention it required to make the heartache, conflict, and Alexi and Bodee’s blossoming relationship believable.

Not only does the author give us an exemplary contemporary novel, but she writes these delicate subjects with such an elegant prose that you can’t help but feel the emotions and a magnetic pull to the story.  Her writing paints a picture that makes the emotions palpable and effortlessly tethers the reader to the ache at the center of the characters’ pain. Here are a few examples:

“But that’s too close. Too soon. Right now we’re both yard sales of emotions. A penny for pain. A dime for bitterness. A quarter for grief. A dollar for silence. It binds us together, but I don’t want him to pay the price for the parts of me that are used and broken. And that’s what the dance would be.”
quote taken from my eARC of Faking Normal at 24% 

“The power of Bodee is in the way he reads me, sees through me, and then understands the truth behind the facade. He’s the guy who can walk straight through the House of Mirrors on the first try. It’s almost annoying. No one should ride tragedy like a pro surfer while I drown.”
–quote taken from my eARC of Faking Normal at 29%

♥ Swoons: Bodee has a way of making normal, everyday occurrences and words seem swoony, and I’m not quite sure how he does it, to be honest. There’s a quiet gentleness and ease to his swoons that I’m sure only he could provide. Needless to say, I heart him.

“Because Bodee slept in his sneakers, because Bodee asked for a kiss instead of just taking it, and because he kept space between us. And he danced with two fingers until I asked for three or four… and his hand on my hip.

I know we’re still broken. Both of us. But Bodee’s got the glue to make us whole.

He is love.”
–quote taken from my eARC of Faking Normal at 93%

♥ Swoony Teaser:

 “I didn’t see you much today,” I say to Bodee as he climbs into the Malibu next to me.

“I saw you.”
quote taken from my eARC of Faking Normal at 53%

♥ Verdict: Sure, slaying dragons and being a skilled assassin in fantasy novels are a thing to marvel over. But when a contemporary is done right, it’s those with the quiet strength of facing struggles in real life every single day and fighting against them, people like Alexi and Bodee, that should be seen as heroes. Being able to face their own truths and stare down the monsters that exist among us, hidden by their camouflage of human skin, that’s the strongest act of courage any person can exhibit. Because that’s real life and they never get to wake up from their nightmares. Those are the people we should champion after, the real people that deserve our unwavering support. Faking Normal and all of its characters have mine.

If I haven’t already made it perfectly clear, I’m recommending this book to people who feel like they can handle the sensitive subjects. If everything that I’ve said hasn’t already convinced you, then perhaps I should mention that I have twelves pages of highlighted text on my kindle. Twelve. Pages. That has to stand for something, right? Faking Normal is a book that I’ve reflected on for the past few months, and one that I’m positive I’ll continue to think about long from now. If you can face the challenge this book throws down, it’s one you don’t want to miss out on.

Also, that cover? Yeah, it’ll be coming to my bookshelf just as soon as I can get my hands on it. I love it so much!

Ms. Stevens, thank you for giving me a real story of personal triumph and characters that I will always feel connected to after such an amazing read. You are a special kind of talent, and I look forward to the day that I can devour more of your words.

A very special thanks to HarperTEEN and Edelweiss for providing me with an early copy of this book for an honest review.

Full of giggles, flails, snark and Southern endearments. Avid Reader. Lover of swoony boys, kickass heroines, yummy kissing scenes, and pretty prose.

I like to draw hearts in the sky (eternal optimist) and wish on stars (forever dreamer). Documentaries, sweet tea, sleep, and brightly colored knee-socks are a few of my favorite things. ♥

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