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Readers Advisory: Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens

HarperTeen, $17.99 hardcover, ISBN-10: 0062245384, February 2014

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.

In a debut destined to be compared with Laurie Halse Anderson’s iconic Speak, Stevens takes readers into the mind and trauma of a teen girl dealing with the aftermath of rape. Lex struggles with a mixture of shame and guilt, wondering why she couldn’t find the courage to struggle or tell her rapist “NO.” While that aspect might have readers confused for most of the book as to how Lex can claim rape if she never said no, it also raises the point that not refusing sex does not necessarily equal consent, especially if the victim feels unable to refuse and the attacker is aware the victim feels unable to refuse. However, when the entire story eventually comes to light, readers will have no doubt that Lex was a victim.

However, the story’s not all gloom and doom. When Bodee Lennox, the weird neighbor kid who dyes his hair with Kool-Aid, comes to live with Lex’s family, she finds a friend and protector. As the two lean on each other for moral support, Lex begins to find the confidence to tell the truth. At the same time, Lex indulges in a flirtation with an anonymous student who sits in her desk in a different class period. “Captain Lyric,” as one of Lex’s girlfriends dubs him,  and Lex write song lyrics to each other in pencil on the desk. As romantic relationships go, it’s the most Lex can handle, although her friends are bound and determined to set her up with insensitive yet hot football players.

Beautifully written and full of mysteries, Faking Normal will find a place on many shelves. Still, the focus on Lex only seems a bit cruel considering Bodee is living with her family because his father recently murdered his mother. His pain is never fully explored; he seems completely focused on helping Lex, and I wanted someone to point out that he was using her issues to avoid his own. While Bodee is getting the star treatment in The Blue-Haired Boy, due out from HarperTeen Impulse in digital copy only in March, those events will take place prior to Lex’s story, so I suppose he’s just out of luck.

Recommend to: Fans of issue dramas

To buy or not to buy: A strong book about an important issue. Buy.

*This honest review refers to a digital ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.

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