Peta Lyres’s Rating Normal, by Anna Whateley
This young adult novel is a fabulous own voices read - the highlight for me being the voice of sixteen-year-old narrator Peta, who, according to her best friend Jeb, has so many letters she could start her own alphabet. Peta has ASD, ADHD and SPD, and the first person narration, told in an honest and engaging voice, allows an intimate insight into Peta's thought processes.
While the high school years
present their own challenges of navigating friendship, romance, study and trying to finding your place in the world, Peta is additionally preoccupied with trying to filter her words and follow the ‘rules’ for normal behaviour.
So far Peta has managed, in her own words, to keep her rating ‘normal' by following a set of rules for social interactions. But always having to wear a mask and repress her real self is mentally exhausting. When new girl Sam turns up at school, she starts to erode the carefully constructed shields Peta has in place in order to elicit acceptance from her peers. A school trip to the ski slopes brings excitement and exhileration, but also leads to painful moments of heartbreak and searching for some sort of self-acceptance.
The cracks start to appear as Peta discovers that falling in love and trying to follow the rules at the same time is going to lead to misunderstandings and feelings of alienation.
Once I entered Peta’s world, being privy to her thought processes and honest observations, I felt completely absorbed and invested. I cheered her on when she shared her sense of empowerment on the ski slopes, and then ached for her when she struggled with feelings of isolation and rejection.
I could hardly bear to put this book down, needing to find out whether or not Peta could ultimately find the courage to empower herself to put her own needs first.
I love the clever metaphor of the story of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which is utilised throughout the narrative to highlight Peta’s feelings of being constructed of various rules learnt during her years of therapy – in the same way that Frankenstein’s monster had to learn the rules of human behaviour by observing and mimicking others. This gives us a real sense of the way in which Peta at times struggles to find an authentic sense of self.
Peta is an honest and intelligent narrator whose voice rings with authenticity. I love that she has been able to create her own family and surround herself with people who care about her, after her own parents gave up on her. She is also able to provide support to her best friend Jeb who, while he is endlessly supportive of Peta, has his own demons to battle, highlighting the reality that we all carry our own hurts and secrets.
This is a beautifully written and thought provoking portrayal of a teen embarking on the path to self discovery and self-acceptance. There are moments of pure light in the beautiful prose, which glimmer like sunlight on snow; so that even as our heart breaks for Peta, we are reminded that there will again be light in the dark.
This book shines a light on the assumptions many neurotypical people have about neurodiversity, and makes us question what exactly 'normal' looks like.
I have no doubt many neurodivergent readers will find a sense of recognition and solace in seeing themselves and their own experiences mirrored in this book.
This is a book which will be enjoyed by both teens and adults and is highly recommended.
Published by Allen & Unwin.