Note: this is a re-run (or updated version) of a post from my previous site/blog, so if it feels a bit déjà vû, it’s not you: it’s me.
Age Range: 12+ (according to publisher’s website; I would happily use this throughout the secondary school – plenty to engage older teens, nothing ‘unsuitable’ for yr7/8, although they will be less interested in the romance aspects)
Themes: family, friends, being different, romance
Narrative style and genre: Strong first-person narration plants you firmly in Grace’s world and gives you clear access to her thinking. She is highly self-aware and able to explain in-depth how her world is different to everyone else’s being painfully aware of her differences.
This gorgeous YA novel, focusing on Grace’s normal teen issues, handled in her atypical way, is a brilliant #ownvoices look at Asperger’s. Grace’s way of engaging with the world is clearly filtered through the symptoms and differences she experiences and these are rendered crystal-clear for the reader right from the start. The plot deals with changes around Grace’s family life and friends – there is a romance plot – and there is plenty to get caught up in.
It’s very easy to root for Grace, and Rachael Lucas’s first-person narration plunges us into her thoughts and feelings with ease, with some interesting direct address telling about her unique take on the world.
This is a brilliant contemporary YA which centres on Grace, an autistic girl who is just trying to negotiate the world. In the novel she deals with family issues, the problems of not easily fitting in with what school wants, and the complexities of first love. It’s a great story, which also teaches about autistic experience. The author is autistic herself and has an autistic child, so it’s written with clear knowledge and understanding that there is a range of experience within the condition.
[Note that the cover is very ‘feminine’, but there’s no reason that the lesson tasks described couldn’t be used in mixed classrooms. Some of the book’s content may be of more interest to some girls than some boys, but the book is not ‘unsuitable’ for boys to see – do check out the extract below to help you decide. The issue of ‘girls’ books/’boys’ books is raised further down this post, by the way…]
The publisher’s website has the opening extract available to download and this could be shown to pupils as the focus for a lesson activity (although of course I would also recommend picking up a copy or three for your school/classroom library).
The opening two paragraphs are very suitable for an AQA Eng Lang paper 2 q3 type task focusing on language (although I know that this is likely to focus on the older text – the skills are the same, it’s all practice and I’m keen to boost confidence and showcase worthwhile/enjoyable outside-of-lesson reading).
Show the extract and ask ‘Looking at the first two paragraphs, how has the writer used language to present an impression of being autistic?’ The passage in question is brilliant for discussion of the impact of imagery and the verbs used to create a sense of repeated/constant happenings. The State of Grace is out now from My Kinda Book at Pan Macmillan in the UK.
Teaching Ideas: Gender and Book Sales
One thing that makes me a little sad about this book is that it its cover is coded in a way that is designed to mark it as ‘girly’, which reduces its potential audience. But probably the publisher believed that boys would not be likely to read it anyway. There is a belief among many adults – parents, publishers and teachers included – that boys are reluctant to read books about girls, and that is problematic for various reasons.
This idea can be seen as contributing to a society where women are seen as ‘other’ and potentially even less than human (witness the size of the sexual harassment/assault scandals we’ve seen in recent years). But of course it also simply reduces the art available to boys and men as they grow – concepts centred around a male character are seen as universal, while those centred on a woman are reduced to ‘women’s interest’. Obviously, this is not always the case, and those few exceptions may be showing that the world is more than ready for a wider range of stories. This article, citing writer Shannon Hale on how her ‘Princess Academy’ books are marketed and received, and providing clear feminist analysis of the issues might also be useful.
These concepts could be introduced for a media lesson at KS3, a non-fiction writing lesson for KS4 and as peripheral to the gender topic for A Level Lang.
For KS3, I would first allow students to read the opening extract from the publisher’s page, so that they have some familiarity with the content. They can then discuss the idea of ‘boy’ books and ‘girl’ books, with some careful questioning. I might give them prompts in groups such as:
- Do you believe that there are topics that boys and girls are naturally more interested in? What kinds of topics would they be?
- Do you think a book with a girl character is more ‘for’ girls and a book with a boy character is more ‘for’ boys? Why/why not?
- Are you aware of having read and enjoyed a book that you think was ‘supposed’ to be for the other gender? What was it?
They could go on to discuss the book’s cover and then create alternative covers for the book which are less ‘girly’.
For KS4, I might choose some obviously boy-targeted and girl-targeted novel covers (or even go to the adult shelves for books the students are less likely to be) and pop them on a powerpoint with the 200-word challenge prompt:
Write an article that argues FOR OR AGAINST the idea of marketing books and films by gender.
You should include:
- a sentence that opens with an adverb (e.g. obviously, clearly)
- a rhetorical question
- a reference to a well-known film, book or myth
- a sentence of five words or fewer
- a metaphor
- the word ‘segregation’ (n) or ‘segregate’ (vb): the division of people into groups against their will/ to divide people… e.g. This is nothing less than segregation/ This idea segregates us
For KS5 Eng Lang, I might open with some covers, discuss their graphology and then dive into a couple of blurbs to do a bit of language analysis. If time allows, you could look at a body of four of five blurbs aimed at each gender to try to show methodology and model investigation practice. Alternatively, you could take a more theoretical route and ask students to relate the ideas of boys not being expected to read about girls/from girls perspectives to representation theories. It might be a good way to make muted/dominant group theory a bit more concrete, for example.