Something is hiding in my childhood. Something Off.
This book literally scared me. I had foreseen Faking Normal having many possible effects on me but fear really wasn’t one of them. And the worst part? This book doesn’t have any monsters in the traditional sense. No demons or things that go bump in the night. Not even any serial killers or psychopaths. The scary things in this book are the memories that people forget over time. The kind of memories we push below the surface and force ourselves to hide away. What don’t we remember from our early childhoods? What horrors did our minds automatically repress to shelter us from dealing with reality? Why are we like we are – could there be an answer hidden deep inside us, a long-forgotten memory that haunts us subconsciously?
There are so many books about sexual abuse in its various ugly forms. I’ll be honest and say I imagined this book would be yet another poor version of Speak. The two do have many similarities: both are about teenage girls who feel unable to talk about their horrific experience. They both have a lot to deal with internally as well as externally and the ultimate theme of both is about gaining an understanding of why many victims feel unable to report what has happened. But, that being said, Alexi’s story felt fresh and unique. The author’s approach to the subject was different from Anderson’s and touched upon elements of child psychology as well. The two girls’ reasons for not reporting the crimes also differ.
Then there’s the other part of this story.
You know, if you’d asked me to draw my perfect guy as a kid, I would have drawn you a cliche. He would have been a stereotype: tall, white (or orange crayon most likely), dark hair, good-looking in a generic way. But we learn as we get older that fantasies don’t hold up in reality. We never want the person we thought we would and we never ever want the person who the world thinks we should. From the heavy metal-loving loner who I watched anime with in high school, to the only Pakistani guy who talked to me in English at the fast food place where I got my first job, to the nerdy guy with the glasses who gave me his copy of Crime and Punishment to read in college. The cliched fantasy is never what we want or need. The person we want in the end is the one we want for all the reasons you can’t draw on paper. And that’s what Alexi Littrell starts to realise in this story.
I do have criticisms and the book might have got five stars otherwise. There was some casual slut-shaming that annoyed me with the character of Maggie playing the role of the throwaway “slutty” girl who is the butt of many jokes. One thought of Alexi’s is: “it’s too cruel to tell Maggie her dating practices don’t lead to roses”, because she’s apparently been around a bit. She also deserves to be used and her feelings are not considered. This is a conversation that’s had when Heather’s boyfriend cheated with Maggie:
“Maggie. But she… why would he do that?”
I give her a look. “Maggie, Heather. She was there,” I say.
It was just such an unnecessary addition to an otherwise really good novel. One thing I will say and I think it’s important to note, I was a little confused about the use of the word “rape” in this novel for a large part of it, but my questions were answered in the end. For once I would say stick with it if you’re unsure. This is a very real spoiler, please do not click unless you’ve read the book: (view spoiler)[Before it was revealed who the real rapist was – and it became a case of statutory rape – it didn’t seem like Alexi had been raped at all. As she said herself, she willingly had sex with him and then afterwards wished she could have made herself say no. For a long time, I had really conflicted feelings about it. (hide spoiler)]
The term irritates me, but this novel is very much a coming-of-age tale. It’s about leaving fantasy behind and facing reality. Facing the truth. Facing your fears. And growing up. There are many mysteries to be solved in this book and each revelation is like leaving a little bit of childhood behind. It’s incredibly powerful. And sad. You should read it.