Published by Macmillan!
Being a teenager is hard. Navigating adolescence whilst living with Asperger’s is a whole other mountain to climb, neither of which come with a rule book, much to Grace’s dismay. With a dad slumming it in the wild trying to secure the best shot, the perfect model-sister who seems to just have it down, and a game of spin the bottle that leads to Grace locking lips with arguably the hottest guy in school, it’s no surprise that Grace is starting to feel a little overwhelmed by life. Not to mention her mum might be bringing in the big guns; the ‘C’ word (‘change’, that is), along with her stuffy, hip friend from uni. But with her best friend Anna and her horse Mabel, she’s hoping she can make it through.
Anyone who says this isn’t an important book with a fresh, integral perspective on what it is to live with Asperger’s, is wrong. For me, I had only read maybe two books about the disorder previously, the only one of which I remember being ‘Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime’. Admittedly, I read it when I was in Year 9 at school and I didn’t dig it — whether that was because of the environment I read it in or because I just didn’t get it at the time, I don’t know. Perhaps I should give it another go? But what I will say about it is it felt very much like the frequent generalisations made upon individuals who have Asperger’s. The main character is good at Maths, he has a thing about his food touching — and that’s pretty much all I can glean from my memories, sitting in that English classroom eight years ago. (Holy mother of god, when did being fourteen become something I was eight years ago?!)
Grace, however, isn’t so good at Maths, but she does live with Asperger’s, proving ability in certain subjects, or even being particularly academic to begin with, aren’t necessarily synonymous with having Asperger’s. What Rachael Lucas does really well in her #OwnVoices novel, ‘The State of Grace’, is paint a perfectly vivid picture of what it’s like sitting in the control panel of that mindset. From her long running sentences, void of punctation but absolutely filled with Grace’s frantic thoughts, you get a sense of how overwhelming it is to walk through life as someone who has Asperger’s. Throughout the story, Grace experiences complete sensory overload, which seems to be one of the leading characteristics of Asperger Syndrome. The ability to concentrate and collect muddled thoughts in a room filled with background noises and smells is something we see Grace battling with, unable to follow a lesson if there’s something going on outside beyond the windowpane, or make sense of her mum’s lectures sat at the kitchen table, when there’s food cooking on the hob or her sister is whipping up yet another delicious treat.
Mabel and Grace’s fear of her mum’s proposed changes also indicate how Asperger Syndrome can effect obsessive natures, those with the disorder wanting to maintain strict patterns and for each day to almost follow a schedule that isn’t strayed from. Grace’s early mornings and evening rides with Mabel are integrated throughout the story and almost become a motif, incapsulating that behavioural trait. Which I think leads on nicely to one of the aspects of ‘The State of Grace’ I really enjoyed and appreciated in Lucas’ portrayal of Asperger’s. Because a lot of the issues we see Grace going through are so completely normal for teenagers; wanting to fit in, worrying that your friends secretly hate you a little bit, boy drama (oh the boy drama!). And I think what Lucas did there was really incredible, because just because Grace has the disorder, doesn’t make her, her life, what she’s going through, any less normal. Her life isn’t completely uprooted and her potential non-existent simply because she has a certain problem with her brain. It makes those things that much more challenging, yes, and maybe it gives extra ammunition for the bullies to pick up on and be cruel about, but Grace is just as resilient as any teen regardless of what is going on in her head. And that is such an important message that needs shouting from the rooftops; no matter what disorder you have, no matter how bad your mental health, you’re still a human being that can overcome it and lead a ‘normal’ life. The little imperfections in your mind don’t have to define you.
The sister bond was another aspect of ‘The State of Grace’ I found interesting to see portrayed. As someone with three older sisters, I know how it can be living in the shadow of them and feeling like you somehow fail to match up. I’ve also seen its effects between the three of them and how it can sometimes lead to a real toxicity in the relationship. And I think that was shown with so many aspects playing at once between Grace and Leah, because Grace looks at Leah and thinks her younger sister shows her up. She goes to a fancy school, plays tennis, and, you know, doesn’t have a problem with her head that makes her ‘act up’ like Grace. But events in the book also shine a light on the fact Leah suffers with living in the shadow of her older sister, too. She get’s less attention, perhaps she doesn’t feel her accomplishments are actually praised as much as Grace thinks. Their warped perceptions of one another, whilst battling teenage issues like their popularity, and their inability to just bite the bullet and talk it out, end with serious repercussions, all of which are so completely realistic and, oh god do they happen in the real world.
My one qualm was Eve. She felt like a pantomime villain. I questioned throughout whether this was just us seeing her through Grace’s mind, where she’d made Eve so completely twisted and unfeeling, but then it is later justified by both Grace’s parents. Eve was just so nasty. Outrightly so. She doesn’t offer a moment to understand Grace, to see that, for her, things have to be processed a little differently, at a slightly slower rate. She’s completely selfish and unsympathetic and I really despised the way Grace’s mum didn’t even seem to recognise how glaringly wrong it was? However, witnessing as my sister’s have become mothers and how they’ve dealt and sometimes battling to balance motherhood and living from themselves, I can see how Grace’s mum would be a tad blind-sighted to the bad treatment of her daughters by Eve. Again, Lucas manages to add another level of a sometimes struggling to function family.
‘The State of Grace’ is a book that not only offers up fab representation, but is also the second YA novel I’ve read that mentions Harry Styles (an instant winner) and one that, whilst entertaining all the butterfly-inducing feelings of cute boys and romance, let’s the main gal herself take precedence in her tricky teenage years and come up fighting.
Thank you to My Kinda Book for sending a review copy!*
‘The State of Grace’ is out 6th April!