Grace is a girl of 15 who is autistic. (Note: do not say who has autism.) She lives with her mother, father and younger sister Leah. Her father is a TV nature cameraman and is away on location much of the time. Grace believes there is a manual on how to be human. Everyone except Grace got a copy.
Unlike many autistic characters in books and films, Grace does not have a special talent. She is not a mathematical genius. What she does have is a horse named Mabel, whom she absolutely adores. It is easier for Grace to communicate with Mabel than with people. Grace meets a boy named Gabriel or Gabe. At this point two unforeseen strokes of chance – one involving Mabel herself – disrupt the whole situation. The remainder of the narrative deals with Grace’s attempts to cope with these events.
Grace has worked hard to develop her understanding of the communications protocol employed by people who are not autistic, the subtexts that others pick up effortlessly. Nevertheless some conversational complexities still elude her. Lucas’s representation of Grace is deft, accomplished and memorable. This achievement is all the more impressive when the reader learns that Lucas herself and her daughter are both autistic. This reviewer was reminded of Lois Keith’s A Different Life, the story of a girl who becomes a wheelchair user written by an author who is herself a wheelchair user. The publishing house of Macmillan also deserves credit for seeing that this is far from being a minority interest book.
There is one aspect of the book less satisfactory. At the end of the text when the narrative is done there appears a list of Grace’s Ten Things, the ten misconceptions about autism she would like to defuse. At the end of a book which emphasises with stunning effect that Grace, like everyone else who is autistic, is a member of the human race, she erects ten barriers between her and everyone else. The narrative carries itself with power and precision, without this didactic coda.