By Courtenay C. Stevens
YA realistic fiction
Faking Normal opens at the funeral of a mother killed by an abusive father. Bodee is now alone, except for a grown brother. But he's not the central figure in this novel. That's Alexi, one of his classmates. Although they have gone to school together forever, and live nearby, they're not close. Bodee is, after all, the Kool-Aid Kid and not quite cool.
Alexi, on the other hand, is one of the golden girls of Rickman. Her older sister has gone out with the football coach since they were in school together, her friends go out with football players and Alexi, well, Alexi is struggling. Perhaps her struggling allows her to feel some empathy for Bodee, who runs out of the funeral rather than speak over his mother's coffin. Alexi goes out to silently comfort him.
Alexi is struggling because she let a guy go all the way last summer -- a guy she knows and who was on the outs with his girlfriend. She didn't want to do it, but she didn't say no. And now Alexi feels like she is damaged goods and it's her own fault. Alexi and Bodee form a solid friendship in which wise and comforting Bodee gently encourages Alexi to come out with the truth about what happened to her. (No one knows that something happened except Alexi and her attacker; Bodee suspects she is keeping a secret though.)
Her other source of comfort -- and Alexi needs a lot of comfort, especially compared to a boy who lost his mother to a murdering father -- is lines of songs left by an unknown student on a desk they share. Could this unknown bard be the football player her friends want her to out with? And what's up with Bodee, who uses Kool-Aid to dye his hair and who is the most quietly confident teen in the book? Who is Alexi's attacker, and why is she scared to admit she was raped?
Faking Normal has a lot going for it. Alexi's dilemma is real and her feelings are portrayed honestly. Bodee, however, seems too good to be true, especially with his healing seeming to go on the back burner for much of the book. It's also worth noting that most of the characters are portrayed as strong church-goers. Yet not much is done with the themes of forgiveness and the ways in which females have been historically portrayed in patriarchal churches as the ones to blame for any sexual transgression.
The author's writing does shine in portraying the ups and downs of small-town life and a gorup that has gone through school together, forming a community that seemingly knows each other so well but still has secrets. It would be interesting to read any explorations Stevens may create regarding small towns and congregations in works to come.
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