Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal by Anna Whateley (Allen & Unwin, 2020) is shortlisted for the CBCA Book of The Year Older Readers 2021. Providing a compelling story while giving insight into navigating highschool while neurodiverse.
“I love how he can always find a way to laugh, no matter how crap everything gets.”
Peta Lyre has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ADHD, and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Her best friend Jeb calls her neurodiversity her alphabet. This discussion happens on the first page and Peta starts thinking about whether it’s true. Her thoughts go into great detail and then in italics she thinks: Long pauses in conversation might make it seem like you’re uninterested. The italics are advice her psychiatrist suggested and these happen throughout the book. The reader really gets into Peta’s mind and how she experiences her world. It’s a clever way of writing her story.
“Apparently, letters mean you should change. I need to learn a lot of rules instead of going to the park. I like rules. I don’t like talking about rules.”
The title comes from Peta noting her “Normal Rating” from 1-10 at the end of social interactions or the end of her day. This is one way she copes with her neurodiversity.
Peta and Jeb go to an alternative highschool with students who don’t fit into traditional education. A new girl, Sam, starts at school and Peta crushes on her. The three become friends and Peta has to try even harder to seem “normal” because she thinks she might lose Sam’s friendship if she doesn’t.
The school year progresses. There’s a school dance and a snow trip in winter. We live through these events in Peta’s head while she gets closer to Sam. A bunch of things happen that Peta worries might blow her “normal” cover.
There’s also flashbacks to when she was diagnosed at age 7. Her mother is a Deadbeat Mum and by Peta’s teen years she’s living with her aunt and toddler cousin. Her home life is good since her Mum left the picture.
The snow trip is the main event of the book and Peta grows in understanding herself and how she can feel comfortable with her friends and family without the normal rating. There’s lots of drama along the way, a romance and many trials and tribulations.
“I know all the tricks because I study people. I’m the mimic, the lyrebird. They created me.”
Anna Whateley is neurodiverse and Peta’s thoughts and behaviour are an Own Voices representation of the experience of neurodiversity. Teenagers who are neurodiverse or LGBTQIA would love seeing themselves in the story. I recommend this to parents, teachers and teenagers 14+ (There’s some mature themes around inappropriate adult behaviour.) A well-deserving addition to the CBCA Shortlist.
“They said I could pass as normal, that I was clever and no one would ever know. They lied. Not about passing. The lie was hidden beneath, in the desire for me to be the same as them. I am extraordinary. They should have helped me soar, be more of me, not less.”