Review Blog

May 29 2020

Peta Lyre's rating normal by Anna Whateley

cover image

Allen & Unwin, 2020. ISBN: 9781760525309. 237p.
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Peta & Jeb have been friends since childhood. Now they both attend a Queensland technical college on the wrong side of the tracks. Peta has an Autism Spectrum disorder. Although high functioning, it takes only a few pages for the reader to appreciate the privilege of being inside this narrator's head. After certain events, Peta's thoughts and often the rote "rules to fit in", given to her by her therapist, provide detailed insight into living with invisible disabilities denoted by letters of the alphabet - ASD, ADHD etc.
Although it is the assumption, the students are not the problem. Like every teen, they flounder to work through their respective physical, cognitive, familial or social disadvantages with varied success. Peta lives with an understanding aunt as Jeb deals with an abusive father. Sam is the new girl. Her family is 'normal' but she has 'baggage' too. When the three new friends go on the school trip to the snow fields, sharing the dorms with private school students, the relationship between Peta and Samantha is explored. But Peta is not the only one who has communication problems. The author skates across many of the insecurities and identity forming rituals of adolescence faced by Sam, Jeb and the other students.  
The ski trip opportunity helps Peta and Jeb identify their life pathways but not before Jeb and Sam learn that Peta can take care of herself - that Peta's awkwardness does not make her needy or incapable. Peta proves that she can be more extraordinary without the rules; that her strengths, including her intense focus and honesty, are not deal breakers for everyone but her closest friends.
It may be confronting to witness Peta's reliance on medication and readers will commiserate with Peta's lows. Above all, we are exhilarated for her, when she demonstrates that she can be accomplished not only in spite of, but because of her idiosyncracies. Everyone, particularly teachers would be enriched by her inner story. Teacher's notes, a trailer and interview are available from the publisher.
Deborah Robins

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