Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal – Anna Whateley – Allen & Unwin – Published 28 April 2020
At sixteen, neurodivergent Peta Lyre is the success story of social training. That is, until she finds herself on a school ski trip – and falling in love with the new girl. Peta will need to decide which rules to keep, and which rules to break…
‘I’m Peta Lyre,’ I mumble. Look people in the eye if you can, at least when you greet them. I try, but it’s hard when she is smiling so big, and leaning in.
Peta Lyre is far from typical. The world she lives in isn’t designed for the way her mind works, but when she follows her therapist’s rules for ‘normal’ behaviour, she can almost fit in without attracting attention.
When a new girl, Sam, starts at school, Peta’s carefully structured routines start to crack. But on the school ski trip, with romance blooming and a newfound confidence, she starts to wonder if maybe she can have a normal life after all.
When things fall apart, Peta must decide whether all the old rules still matter. Does she want a life less ordinary, or should she keep her rating normal?
For all Peta’s internal turmoil and the sad situations in the book, this is an uplifting and happy story. I found myself enthralled with the plot, loving Peta’s voice and genuinely enjoying every minute of the book. While it does tackle some mature topics, including sexual harassment, relationship breakdown, domestic violence and physical abuse, it is a positive story about accepting your differences and being okay with them and finding your people.
This is not an LGBT discovery or exploration novel. And yet it is. What I’m trying to say that no big deal is made of Peta being gay or not. It’s not really even referenced. She likes guys. She likes girls. There is no exploration of this, it just is, which makes it so authentic and accepting. This is one side of Peta that she doesn’t question or challenge, unlike her diagnosis letters, as she calls them.
Peta’s parents and childhood doctors and therapists have all made Peta feel like she needs to pass as normal. Hence the book’s title Rating Normal. Each day and at the end of every situation (and chapter) Peta gives herself a rating normal score out of 10. Passing as normal is the goal and Peta has a massive list of rules she runs through in her head in every situation to appear normal. When she is later questioned about these rule she explains that it helps to make people feel comfortable around her and she doesn’t upset people as much if she follows those rules. My heart broke. As her friend challenges her, what did you lose? It made me think again about how our society, rules and structure, education and workplace systems make people like Peta and others think they have to change to fit in. And that is just wrong because we lose so much.
I loved, loved, loved the setting of this book. It was just so perfect for the story and yet unique. Peta and her friends travel on a school trip to Perisher Valley. Here, Peta finds a world where she excels – cool under pressure, fast on the slopes. She allows herself to focus on this and does so exceedingly well. Unfortunately, her relationships are challenged and she and her friends struggle to make the right choices and know how to fix things when they go wrong.
A stunning book with a very likeable and authentic teen voice that portrays a story about becoming comfortable with yourself, finding the people that make you feel safe and allow you to be the truest version of yourself.
Category: Young adult fiction
Themes: Neurodivergent, ASD, ADHD, snow, skiing, relationships, LGBT relationships, romance, friendship, domestic violence, family.
Representation: Neurodivergent protagonist . White protagonist and main characters. Iranian main character. LGBT main characters.
Reading Age Guide: Ages 14 and up
Advisory: Frequent coarse language, f***, sh**, sl**, pi**. Frequent sexual references, making out and nudity. Sexual harassment and assault.
Published: 28 April 2021 by Allen & Unwin
Format: Paperback, ebook. 248 pages.