Faking Normal

Leave a comment

Certain situations can impress into our mind, leaving certain feelings depending on what it is. Getting assaulted is a traumatic experience that can leave someone with a sense of constant fear and anxiousness. This is the focus of Faking Normal, the debut novel of American author Courtney C. Stevens.

Alexi Littrell may seem like a normal 16-year-old: she has two best friends, an older sister, and the attention of a couple of cute guys at her high school. But what people don’t know is that something terrible happened to Alexi over the summer, and she hasn’t told anybody about it. She maintains her facade of “faking normal” by compulsively scratching the back of her neck in private, and trading written song lyrics on the underside of her desk with the anonymous “Captain Lyric.”

Her life is further altered when acquaintance Bodee Lennox comes to live with her family after he experiences a family tragedy. The two bond over their shared secrets, and Alexi finds that Bodee gives her the strength to admit what happened to her and to do something about it.

While the plot may sound similar to Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, which is also about a girl who’s assaulted over the summer and doesn’t tell anyone, Alexi’s relationship with Bodee is what makes the story unique. Instead of being attractive to the popular, athletic guys that most female characters would be, Alexi finds solace in Bodee’s calm demeanor. Bodee, in turn, provides Alexi with an unbiased, undemanding perspective about her situation.

Stevens also portrays Alexi’s anxiety and insomnia realistically- the way she sleeps in her closet to feel safe and counting the vent slits to concentrate on something. She doesn’t try to sugarcoat Alexi’s experience and even emphasizes the importance of speaking up, even including a passage at the end of the novel about what resources are available.

I definitely recommend this novel to people who enjoy reading stories about healing and the significance of saying something.

Once and For All

Leave a comment

About two months ago, I heard that Sarah Dessen was coming to a bookstore near my city to do a reading and signing for her latest novel, Once and For All. Since I had never been to a signing, I decided to go and check it out. Of course, driving to the suburbs of the nation’s capital at rush hour is not easy, and I didn’t arrive until after she had finished the reading. Fortunately, I still got a chance to meet Sarah (me being the very last person in line) and get my book signed by her. It was a cool experience.

For me, reading a wedding-themed novel couldn’t have come at a better time. My older brother got married about three months ago, and I got a small glimpse as to what he and his wife did to plan for the big day. I wasn’t too involved with the process myself, but I found myself fascinated with all the work of 14 months that culminated in just one entire day, or really just a few hours. Anyway, on with the book review.

Louna is the teenage daughter of a wedding planner in South Carolina. Being in the business of happily-ever-afters, she’s seen it all- reluctant brides, stressed out wedding parties and uninvited guests. However, Louna herself doesn’t believe in love, partly due to her own first love ending in tragedy, something that soured her perspective. During one of her wedding events, she meets Ambrose, a charismatic guy who isn’t committed to long-term relationships. When he comes to work for them for the summer, Louna finds herself struggling to maintain her perspective of love while dealing with Ambrose’s contrasting views.

I liked the wedding element of the novel. Dessen portrays how many details go into the planning of the big day, not just the guest list and the wedding party, but everything from from the caterer and the decorations to making sure everyone is present for ceremony and the timing. There’s also details about how ceremonies can range from a courthouse wedding to a huge 300-person gathering.

That being said, I didn’t find the actual plot of Louna and Ambrose’s relationship to be that appealing. After reading Dessen’s 2015 novel Saint Anything, which centered more around family love and inclusion than romantic relationships, I guess I expected her next book to have as much depth as that one did. But truthfully, I found that this novel lacked substance and felt more like recycled material from her previous books. Dessen is still a great writer, but I wish Once and For All had been a more complex and layered story.

 

Five Year Anniversary

Leave a comment

Five years ago this summer, I was halfway through my college career, majoring in journalism. I had been taking the typical classes- writing and reporting, editing, and composition and critical thinking. I still had two more years of college to look forward to and more classes to take.

One of the requirements of my journalism degree was 400 hours of internship. The previous summer, I had held an internship with my hometown newspaper, covering local stories and learning the publishing process. Summer 2012 however consisted of me only working my job as a cashier, wanting to earn money for my study abroad semester that fall. I was still covering some town meetings for the newspaper, but I still felt restless and wanted to be doing something to keep my writing skills sharp. This was something I mentioned to my brother while he was up visiting from D.C.

“If you’re a journalism major, you should probably have a blog.” he suggested.

“But what about?” I asked. “People with blogs seem to have a focus, but all I’m really doing is college right now, and there are already a million ones about being in college.”

“What’s something that you like that you could write about?” he said.

I thought about it for a little bit, glancing over at the book I had been reading. Books. Reading.

“Maybe I could write about books.” I mused.

“That’s something,” he said.

And thus Books By Betsy was created. I came onto WordPress and made my account, choosing the notebook theme because I liked the look. Since then, I have reviewed over 100 books, although I’m pretty sure I’ve read more than that in the past 5 years. A few years ago I started to promote my blog through my Twitter account, tagging the authors, and even get a shout out from them once in awhile. As an aspiring author myself, it’s great being able to read different kinds of books and sharing my thoughts about the story.

A few months after I launched this blog, I began to document my experiences of studying abroad in a foreign country that fall. I called that blog Experiencing England, As you can tell, I like alliteration in my titles, but I also chose that title because I didn’t find it used anywhere else.

Thank you to those who have read my blog. If you have any books you want me to review or any other comments or suggestions, please leave them below. Keep reading!

 

 

Always and Forever, Lara Jean

Leave a comment

The third book in Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy, the final novel is entitled Always and Forever, Lara Jean. My reviews of the first and second book can be found in previous posts.

Lara Jean Song Covey is in her senior year of high school, and life is good. Her and Peter’s relationship is stronger than ever, her father is getting married and her older sister Margot will be coming home for the summer soon. With graduation coming, the future is on her mind: starting college and a new beginning, preferably with Peter. Their plan is to attend the University of Virginia together. But when Lara Jean unexpectedly doesn’t get in, it makes her wonder what her future will really hold- and whether or not it will include Peter. Further doubts arise when she realizes that she has to say goodbye to the friends she has known since childhood.

First of all, what’s interesting about this novel is that it wasn’t originally planned. According to an interview with Bustle, Jenny Han stated that after writing the second book, she was focusing on other projects but kept going back to Lara Jean. She realized that writing the end of Lara Jean’s high school career would serve as a good conclusion to the series.

One of the elements the novel most focuses on is college admissions. Senior year is usually when most high schoolers apply to colleges and make their decision by the unofficial date of May 1. Sometimes, people don’t get in to the school they want and have to go with their second school, a decision that’s not always easy. This is the kind of situation that Lara Jean finds herself in. The plot also focuses on how an existing relationship can be affected if the two people decide to go to two different colleges. Long-distance relationships can be hard to maintain.

Another difficulty Lara Jean deals with is having to leave her family, friends and home for college. While her older sister Margot has been at college, Lara Jean took on her role of helping around the house and taking care of their younger sister Kitty. But now she realizes that she’ll be away from her sister, father and new stepmom. Change is a major theme of the novel, and I liked how Han handled it realistically- having Lara Jean talk to her friends about their futures and how things will be different.

I definitely recommend this novel to those who enjoy a story about the end of one chapter and the start of another.