The Premise: fifteen year old Grace is struggling through school, friendships and the incomprehensible behaviour of her parents, all of which is made more complicated by the fact that she has Asperger’s. As life becomes more complicated, Grace tries even harder to be “normal,” with not entirely successful results.
Thoughts: I really liked this book, and the main reason for that is Grace herself. Her narrative is really honest and realistic; I’m not always convinced by the teen voices created by adult authors, but Lucas completely nails it. Using Grace as the narrator obviously means the reader gets an insight into her thoughts, so we can share in her embarrassments and problems: both the universal ones and those that her Asperger’s throws up. My experience of Asperger’s is entirely based on kids who I’ve taught or known at school, so I’m not an expert, but I think Lucas does a brilliant job of showing what it actually means in a practical context. For example, Grace is given a ‘time out’ card to use at school if she needs to take a break from the classroom, but even this marks her out as different and isn’t sympathetically treated by her teachers, which only increases her anxiety and discomfort. Being inside Grace’s head was both illuminating and heartwarming; she’s a lovely character and I think it’s probably impossible to read this book and not develop massive affection for her.
The situations that unfold around Grace also felt really authentic to me. Her friendship with Anna was a joy to read; I recently read a YA book about a teen girl whose life was made complicated by a condition beyond her control, and that character’s supposed best friend behaved appallingly, and I was both annoyed and upset by this. It didn’t feel representative of proper teenage girl friendships; The State of Grace, however, shows a proper, strong, lovely bond between Grace and Anna, which wasn’t based on obligation or pity or anything like that. I like reading about functional, supportive friendships between girls in YA – I don’t think it’s presented realistically and responsibly often enough – so this was another big tick for me.
Lots of things happen to Grace during the course of the book, all of which are standard teenager things. Her dad goes away to work and Grace misses him; her mum starts hanging out with a horrible friend who Grace hates; Grace kisses a boy and has no idea what she’s doing. None of this was melodramatic or clichéd; even the romance storyline is less important than Grace’s general development as a character, and there’s no sense of love saving her from Asperger’s, which (while obviously ridiculous) is absolutely what would have happened in many other YA novels. It’s all just really well-handled; it’s never mawkish or overblown, and all rings true.
In Conclusion: I really recommend this to YA readers; it’s an easy read with believable characters and relatable situations, all viewed through a unique and engaging perspective. I expect Rachael Lucas to be up for all the YA-type prizes in a year.