What is this about?: Grace, who is navigating a new part of her life – boys. Nods. For a 16yo with autism, that’s kind of a big deal, but more than her budding romance her life is undergoing a series of changes, and Grace doesn’t like change.
What else is this about?: That’s pretty complicated as it is, and it’s enough.
Blurb: Sometimes I feel like everyone else was handed a copy of the rules for life and mine got lost.
Grace has Asperger’s and her own way of looking at the world. She’s got a horse and a best friend who understand her, and that’s pretty much all she needs. But when Grace kisses Gabe and things start to change at home, the world doesn’t make much sense to her any more.
Suddenly everything threatens to fall apart, and it’s up to Grace to fix it on her own.
Whip-smart, hilarious and unapologetically honest, The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas is a heart-warming story of one girl trying to work out where she fits in, and whether she even wants to.
I don’t know enough about autism to make a judgement on whether State of Grace portrays autism well enough or not — I think it does, but I also wonder if it might be a little too good? Sanitised? That’s the only word that comes to mind, but it’s not exactly the right one either.
Change is constant
Grace doesn’t like change. Every year, she has a small birthday celebration with her family, at the same restaurant and the same table and that’s the way she likes it. It’s part of who she is, and even as she tries sometimes to embrace change in the book and her life, it doesn’t always work.
When the book opens, everything changes for her: the popular boy notices her, her mother seems to be wanting to change everything in her life (not that Grace minds), thanks to a new (terrible) friend and an absentee husband and Leah, her sister, has ditched her BFF and is now friends with the younger sister of Grace’s mortal enemy. Her safe zone is Mabel, her horse, who is a constant.
Grace is a sharply astute character trying to navigate the politics that come with teenage-hood and school. Anna, her BFF, is another safe zone for her – she gets Grace, and Grace doesn’t have to say much at all for Anna to understand her. But Anna can’t protect Grace from the changes in her life (and in face Anna’s life is changing too).
Gabe is the popular boy, the guy her nemesis is crushing on, but much to Grace’s surprise, Gabe asks her out. Mishaps and miscommunications ensue, but I like that this book portrayed the popular guy as someone with ADHD – and gave Grace a romantic interest that will understand her autism.
Her mum and her sister are going through their own changes, and you can see what they are coming a mile away. This doesn’t detract from them, because this is a story about Grace and change, really. She doesn’t understand her mum’s focus on her friend Eve, and everything she says. There’s an attempt here to make family changes a big part of this book, but some parts are too subtle. I think the storyline with her parents and their problems could have done with more focus, more details and Grace dealing with things more explicitly rather than through Eve, the friend her mother is leaning on through this time AKA the story needed her father present and not away on a work trip.
Leah is her little sister, and far more responsible than she has to be, according to Grace and her mother. Leah is the one her mother trusted with Grace when they were kids, but things have changed. Leah’s changing, and not in a way Grace or her mother approve of, but that’s what happens. It’s also part of a storyline that could have done with more oomph.
The thing that stuck with me when Grace was describing her autism is that she is in need of quiet and a time-out when the world gets too much for her – it happens in school and at home, and it’s exhausting. I think it was an easily relatable way to describe what she goes through to readers who might not fully understand autism and what it means for someone. It matters to her that she has the same birthday every year, and it matters to her that she needs a time out to gather herself. I posted some paras on Instagram about things that stuck with me in the book. Life is a constant navigation for her, a balance between doing what she knows she’s supposed to do when all she may want to do is have a time out.
In the end, I think this was one plot thread too many for the book. Perhaps the author was trying to immerse Grace in change and to have her deal with it, but it choosing one or two storylines, and giving them more focus might have suited this better. That said, I enjoyed this thoroughly.