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Define “Normal”? Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens

fakingnormalcoverCourtney C. Stevens’ debut novel “Faking Normal” takes on some tough issues.  It opens at the funeral for a neighbor who has been killed by her own husband.  The dead woman’s  teenaged son, Bodee, is a bit of an oddball and outcast already– a boy who dyes his hair with KoolAid and keeps to himself.  After the tragedy, he is taken in by Alexi’s family to live with them for a while, and is the only one who notices that Lexi has a dark secret of her own.  She’s been “faking normal” and has convinced her two close friends, Liz and Heather, her parents, and everyone else around her that she’s living the life of a normal high school teen.  But Lexi is not doing such a good job in suppressing her internal demons, and has turned to hiding in her closet at night and tearing at the back of her neck until it bleeds.  Stevens keeps the reader guessing as to the specifics of Lexi’s incident, but it is clear that it involves some form of sexual abuse. Bodee, mature beyond his years, supports her until she seems stronger and then presses her to make a full disclosure.  In turn, Lexi is pressuring him to swear out a disposition against his father.  It is a lovely story of the two teens growing closer, the mis-steps they take along the paths of high school dating, break-ups, drinking, and other pitfalls.  Lexi, in love with an imagined boy who leaves song lyrics on her desk, almost misses the real flesh-and-blood boy right in front of her.  If I were to find fault with the novel, it is in the portrayal of the minor characters around Lexi and Bodee: the girlfriends Liz and Heather are not fleshed-out individuals and the football player boyfriends are somewhat cartoonish stereotypes.  Stevens certainly has writing skills and could have made them more fully formed.  Also, Bodee speaks at times with the voice of a wise sage years older than his teens, which jars at times, but he is such a sympathetic and lovable character, it is forgiven.   One thing I must applaud Stevens for is her bravery in including references to God and religion in a Young Adult work.  The mother attends a prayer meeting, the kids have attended church school, and there is a definite thread of a religious nature throughout.  The author also in the back of the book has provided a special message to any boy or girl who has suffered rape or abuse, telling them it is never their fault, they can find help to a normal life again, and they must learn to trust again.  It is a beautiful, honest and brave footnote to the book.  Thank-you, Courtney. courtneyStevens

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