A review by Nalini Haynes
Peta Lyre is 16 and has “alphabet soup” diagnoses including ADHD and is on the autism spectrum. Over a period of years she engaged in social training. As long as she keeps her meds up, she is a successful performing monkey. However, when stressed and tired, Peta forgets her meds. And there’s a new girl at school, one Peta finds attractive. Plus going on a school trip hundreds of miles from home poses new challenges.
Representation of disability and neurodivergence
Many people on the autism spectrum prefer to be known as “neurodivergent” and not disabled. I discuss both in this segment. I include “disability” because Peta Lyre has more “alphabet soup” diagnoses than just being on the autism spectrum.
Whateley is an #OwnVoices author. This doesn’t automatically make her characters “good representations”: some people have Stockholm Syndrome and beat up on themselves and their tribe. However, Peta Lyre is an engaging, relatable character. It appears Whateley loves Peta Lyre, a key ingredient for writing good representation.
In many ways, Peta Lyre reminds me of a mentally ill friend. My friend relapsed into serious mental illness, including hospitalization in a psych ward. Her personality didn’t “flip”. She didn’t change into a monster or a different person. To me it was like a magnifying glass shaped her personality so some traits were magnified, some relatively diminished, and some appeared to disappear.
Like my friend, Peta Lyre is a relatable, likable person. Also like my friend, some aspects of her personality are magnified, the topography of her character shifting into something slightly alien, slightly different. Through her relatability and internal dialogue, I learnt a lot about what it is for Peta Lyre and, presumably, Anna Whateley, to have this type of alphabet soup.
Peta Lyre falls for a girl. It’s complicated. As are most relationships. Whateley doesn’t fetishize Peta as a lesbian, neurodivergent or disabled person. I wanted Peta to find happiness. This is all wonderful in a novel, positive representation and – in Will Kostakis’s words – focusing on the butterfly not the trauma of coming out.
The only thing that bugged me about the romance side of this novel was that there was no conversation along the lines of “are we girlfriends?” In this day and age, it seems that, unless two people have a specific conversation about their relationship, there is no relationship other than, perhaps, friends; and perhaps friends with benefits. Considering this conversation appears a lot in pop culture, and considering Peta’s alphabet soup difficulties, I felt this conversation was even more important than usual.
I love Peta Lyre, her journey, her self-made family and her self-disclosure. Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal made me laugh and cry. I admit I howled when Peta emotionally engages with her parents abandoning her because the same happened to (disabled) me at a similar age. Peta making her own family is also something I relate to, as is people moving away. There is so much to love about this story, so much to relate to and yet so much to learn from Peta Lyre that I consider this novel essential reading. Please, please, put this book on your list for high school English and Society classes as well as your adult book clubs.
I talked to Anna Whateley about writing Peta Lyre and why representation is important. This podcast is available here and on all good podcasting platforms.
Rating: 5 out of 5. Completely normal.
Imprint: A & U Children (Allen and Unwin)
Format: Paperback – B format, 248 pages
Publisher’s recommended reading age: 13 – 18 (Total BS if you ask me; if you’re 80, you should still read this book.)
Category: fiction, disability, queer, romance