Review: The State Of Grace

Being a human is a complicated game
- like seeing a ghost in the mirror and
trying to echo everything they do.
Grace is autistic, a little different from the people around her, but that's ok. She's got a best friend, a horse, and a routine that makes life a little easier. But with things starting to feel off at home and an unexpected development with a cute boy, Grace's ordered world is starting to slip off its axis, and it's up to her to fix it.

So it's April once again, month of Autism Awareness (insert muffled sarcastic "yay!" here). This is a month when most of us actually autistic people brace ourselves for an onslaught of pure awfulness that is people being "helpful". Nah, I am not here for that, thanks. This is instead a month to raise up autistic voices and as it happens I got my hands on a copy of a brand new own-voices novel. Two copies actually, but that's another story. So let's start with this.

The State Of Grace, out in the UK on the 6th April but already available in some bookshops, is a contemporary slice-of-life YA novel about an autistic teenager, written by the lovely Rachael Lucas. Contemporary is not my genre, it probably never will be (I continue to be disappointed by the lack of dragons and murder) but the promise of an autistic main character, one who loves Doctor Who nonetheless, and the occasional discussion of creme eggs with the author on twitter, left me very excited to read this one.
"You don't look autistic."
"And you don't look ignorant. And yet here we are."
And I am so very glad that I did. This is own voices, and it really shows. The problem with an awful lot of autistic characters is that whoever wrote it clearly didn't really know what they were talking about, falling back on stereotypes or the narrative of "what a tragedy, woe, woe!" or "they're basically Rain Man, cool!". This book on the other hand treated Grace like she was a person like any other, just wired a bit differently. She has a crush on a boy, goes to a party, giggles with her best friend, gets annoyed at her mum, and leaves toast crumbs on the kitchen counter. She just also happens to get overwhelmed by the onslaught of sensory information in Boots or an unexpected change in plans.

I really enjoyed Grace as a character, she's funny and awkward and loves Doctor Who, and while I've never had a horse phase I certainly understood her connection and love for hers, being rather ridiculously fond of my babies cats. But there was something deeper than that, something that happens far too infrequently: I really understood her and how she looked at the world in all its nonsensical glory. It was littered with moments that made me stop and go "yes, that's it exactly" whether Grace was describing a meltdown or sensory issues or being utterly confused by how the world of humans works. I've never been one for marking pages but started to tab all of the moments that really spoke to me, and I ended up using most of a packet. Grace feels like a real autistic teen, easily one of the most accurate depictions of what it really feels like to be autistic that I've ever read, and I absolutely loved her.

The sea of "it me" tabbed moments
This book also has a wonderful ability to point out some of the everyday problems that the actually autistic community faces, and of doing it subtly but clearly. People have a tendency to talk about us instead of to us, we're usually the last group that anyone thinks to consult, and Grace is no exception. There was a wonderfully sarcastic moment when she comments on the fact that something that was put in place for accessibility in her school was made without asking anyone who might actually use it, meaning that it is really not fit for purpose. People ignore her needs or assume they know what they are without asking, and Grace notices. It impacts her life and makes it harder for her, something that happens a lot in a world not designed for us, either physically or socially, yet we are often treated like we're the ones at fault.
They tell me what they think I feel because they've read it in books, or they say incredible things like 'autistic people have no sense of humour or imagination or empathy' when I'm standing right there beside them
Another aspect that I enjoyed about this novel is that though Grace is not desexualised, something that happens all to often with neurodiverse and disabled characters, the focus also wasn't heavily on the romance between her and love interest Gabe. The romance aspect was definitely there but it didn't overshadow the rest of the story, it was slow-build and cute, no insta-love or sudden dropping of every other aspect of life, it's a relationship just beginning, bonding over a love of Doctor Who, still a little bit awkward, even at the end and it made a refreshing change. It was also a nice little point that Gabe was Polish, there being a fairly sizable Polish population in the UK now, there really should be more representation of them.

The story is far more heavily focused on the family side of Grace's life; her father away for work, her mother with a newly arrived and vastly unpleasant old friend, her sister with a sudden change in behaviour, and her horse being her one constant rock. These all have just as much, if not more of an impact on her than kissing the boy she fancies. I very much enjoyed the various family dynamics, the strains that are clearly there but were not irreparable divisions, they felt like a real family, thoroughly flawed but essentially loving. Grace's mother often frustrated me because, like many parents, she was clearly trying to help but didn't always get it right, while the relationship between Grace and her sister Leah just made me smile.
'TARDIS!' Anna squeals.
'I know.' I beam at her because she gets it, instantly.
The friendship between Grace and Anna was rather lovely too, they clearly understood and tried their best for each other even though they were so different. There was one scene in particular that thoroughly reminded me of how I was with my own friends when I was their age, the giddy joy of doing something ridiculous and getting the giggles about it. Because autistic people can and do have friends. Shocking, I know. And speaking of friends, I hated Grace's mum's friend Eve, she reminded me of every person who ever decided that I was just making a fuss for the sake of it, that my having a meltdown or shutdown was merely an inconvenience for them rather than an excruciatingly unpleasant event for me, while also evoking the memory of people who only stick around while you're doing exactly what they want to do. She made my skin crawl and I was definitely rooting for her demise just as much as Grace was.

My thoughts are all a little rambly where this book is concerned, but overall this was a great little YA, very enjoyable despite the lack of dragons, cute and heartwarming, and a wonderful example of just why own-voices fiction matters so very much. Everyone should be able to see themselves in books (and on screen) but this is still one of only a handful that have really given me that. I'm extremely glad that this book is now out in the world, ready to show an autistic girl that she's not so odd after all.

Highly Recommended 

Read: 30/3/17
Source: Sent an ARC by the publisher, also purchased

No comments:

Post a Comment