I loved this story so much. We’re all conditioned to believe that if we follow ‘the rules’ we’ll be safer and our lives will be happier. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s literally the fabric that glues society together.
Of course, the problem is, it’s seldom true. Bad things do happen to good people. Even if you strive every day to reach your goal and do everything you’re told to do, you still might fail.
Peta Lyre finds it harder than others to follow the unwritten rules of society. The ‘Alphabet Girl’ with ASD, SPD and ADHD, she’s been explicitly taught ‘the rules’ by a series of therapists who try to help her to fit in. They’ve served her reasonably well so far, but up against the complex grey issues of the teenage years, they’re not working so well. In fact, they’re sometimes making things worse, especially when other people don’t play by the same rules.
Anna Whateley’s debut novel is full of warm, loveable, imperfect and funny characters. I wanted to spend more time with Peta, her aunt and school friends Jeb and Sam.
There were plenty of “Yes!” recognition moments for me about Peta’s internal dialogue, which I run through my own head sometimes, as though I’m watching myself from afar and giving advice, or a running commentary:
“Long pauses in conversation might make it seem you are uninterested.”
“A question shows you are interested in what someone is saying.”
“Try not to interrogate people for information.”
Some of the therapist advice made my blood run a little cold. I wanted to reach out and hug Peta when advice like this played through her head:
“You don’t have to hide who you are, Peta… but sometimes it will help you get along with your peers if you are less open.”
Feel free to be exactly who you are. But you won’t be loved for who you are, so don’t be yourself too much…
I committed a cardinal sin at one point because I got so excited – I forgot I was reading a library book (not my own) and I dog-eared a page at this passage:
“I thought if I just stuck to the rules I could be normal, and have all the things that normal people have – like a girlfriend. But I followed them and they were wrong.”
This is still a tough, but true, lesson to remember at the ripe old age of 40 (which I am), but I also highly recommend handing this over to the teenager in your life who’s having a tough time navigating life with all the new, complex and seemingly ever-changing rules which are thrown at them during those years.