I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
When I started writing this review, I thought that I was just disappointed, but then I realised that this book actually made me surprisingly angry. While the representation of ASD was good, the lack of plot and the frankly terrible secondary characters made this book really get on my nerves.
My main problem was the lack of actual plot. Grace has Autism. She struggles at school. Her best friend is Anna. She lives with her parents and sister, but her father travels a lot for work. She has a horse. She begins to date Gabe. There is a lot of stuff to Grace’s life, but there wasn’t a clear plot. Apart from her new relationship with Gabe, nothing at the end of the novel was different from the beginning, which made me wonder a bit what the point was. Towards the end, things began to pick up, but I felt like it was rushed and somewhat meaningless once it had finished. Grace makes a huge mistake trying to be cool, which makes her fear that her friends will hate her. This was understandable because Rachel Lucas does a really good job at getting us to understand the way Grace thinks, but Grace doesn’t actually do anything to solve this, which made it feel a bit lacklustre. Rather, everything was solved by other characters swooping in to save her and assuring her that everything is fine. It’s not that I was looking for Grace to be magically cured of her autism and anxiety, but it would have been nice to have seen Grace do something to fix the mess that she made and take some ownership.
Rachel Lucas did a really good job at representing life with Autism. I’ve learned since that this is an #ownvoices novel, and you can definitely see the effects of this being told by someone who knows what it feels like to have Autism. We see Grace’s thought processes, how she handles people, and her daily life. I was really impressed at how Lucas shows us a little of what it feels to be overwhelmed by the world around you, and the way that it’s written really shows you how Grace struggles to deal with all of the sounds, sights, and smells around her. Grace was a really well developed character in this sense. However, I was a bit disappointed at the representation of Gabe’s ADHD, in that there basically was none. It was mentioned, and I thought that we might get so learn a bit about his experiences, but then this just disappeared for the entire rest of the novel. It felt odd that a novel that was clearly trying to represent one condition would so completely disregard another that it had purposefully mentioned.
This leads onto my final issue with the novel, which is simply that all of the secondary characters were completely two-dimensional. For example, we basically know nothing about Gabe other than that he is Polish, has ADHD, and watches Doctor Who. We don’t see his sense of humour or his feelings. We barely even see him talk, as when Gabe and Grace hang out, Lucas just skims over their dialogue and summarises their conversations for us. The same goes for Grace’s friendship with Anna. It was taken for granted that readers would just accept that Anna was Grace’s best friend because we were told that she was, but I would have liked to have seen Anna actually doing something to actively support Grace so that I could understand why Grace feels more comfortable with Anna than other people.
Grace’s mother and sister are shown a lot more, but they still felt so flat. Grace’s sister Leah is basically irrelevant for the entire story until she suddenly has alcohol poisoning, which was so random that I couldn’t believe it was happening. Grace’s mother is struggling with her marriage and has rekindled a friendship with an old friend called Eve, who is pushing her to return to work now that her daughters are older. Eve is portrayed as some sort of evil witch, and Grace’s mother as a brainless and bitter housewife. At the end, Grace’s mother realises that Eve has been a bad influence and returns to being blissfully happy with home life. This was a laughable twist of events, and really annoyed me. There is nothing wrong with Grace’s mother being interested in returning to work, but it was shown as a terrible, selfish thought on her part, and I just can’t believe that someone as inconsiderate Eve could exist. Characters were either good people or terrible people, there was no in between, and the terrible characters were given no chance for redemption or development. This made it really hard to take any of the secondary characters seriously because they were like caricatures of real people.
Overall, the only thing that saved this book for me was the delicate exploration of Grace’s mind in the opening half of this novel, and that’s the only thing that saved this from being a 1-star review. Even though there was barely any plot and the secondary characters were simplistic and cartoonish, I do feel like I did learn things about life with Autism.