Books featuring a sibling with a mental illness

Book review: Social Queue

Author: Kay Kerr
Publisher: Text (2021)
Genre: Contemporary fiction (for a YA readership)

“Zoe Kelly is starting a new phase of her life. High school was a mess of bullying and autistic masking that left her burnt out and shut down. Now, with an internship at an online media company-the first step on the road to her dream writing career-she is ready to reinvent herself. But she didn’t count on returning to her awkward and all-too-recent high-school experiences for her first writing assignment.

When her piece, about her non-existent dating life, goes viral, eighteen-year-old Zoe is overwhelmed and more than a little surprised by the response. But, with a deadline and a list of romantic contenders from the past to reconnect with for her piece on dating, she is hoping one of her old sparks will turn into a new flame.”

Light blue cover, digital drawing. The word social is in one speech bubble, with a girl and a cat standing atop it. The word Queue is in a separate speech bubble, with five people below. They are standing on another speech bubble that contains 'Kay Kerr' in capital letters.
Image source
Image description in alt text.

In Social Queue, Kay Kerr explored romance, friendship and disability. Although Kerr’s first novel, Please Don’t Hug Me, also featured an autistic main character, it didn’t have as much focus on broader issues for the disability community. In this way, Social Queue was a timely novel and a reflection of the growing societal representation and understanding of neurodivergence and other disabilities.  

Social Queue depicted the confusing, exhilarating tumult of modern romance through the lens of an autistic character. It hit all the beats of a rom-com with one less common element at the end: Zoe grappling with the fact that the guy who was objectively right for her subjectively just wasn’t. Zoe modelled an emotional maturity in dealing with the situation and letting that person down gently that it is vital for readers to absorb. She didn’t take the easy path and ghost him, or explain over text. She did it in person, stepping through the delicate terrain of emotions – his and hers – and granting them the tenderness they deserved.  But Kerr gave her readers much more than merely a romance story (though there’s nothing wrong with those).

Kerr illustrated that friendship and romance can be equally important. For instance, though Zoe threw herself into getting to know the commenters on her article with romantic potential, she never lost sight of her friendships, predominantly with her best friend, Ari. As Zoe’s confidence at her internship grew, she also became open to friendships with her coworkers, who could support her in ways that Ari couldn’t. This support from her friends (and her family) became crucial for Zoe as she encountered ableism in response to her articles and in real life.  

Not only did Kerr offer readers disability representation, she also presented a compelling discussion of disability rights and disability pride. Zoe identified as autistic and disabled although, importantly, Kerr noted that not all autistic people will identify as disabled. Additionally, Zoe’s dad is on the disability support pension after a heavy-machinery accident and just emerged from a period of depression, during which he “kind of disappeared.” Zoe and her dad knew what they need to do to manage their respective conditions, and the rest of the family was supportive. For instance, Zoe asked Harriet to pick her outfits for her internship, recognizing that it was “one less thing I have to decide for myself.” Kerr also highlighted some aspects of disability that aren’t often represented in fiction or otherwise, such as Zoe’s sensitivity to certain fragrances. But with disability, in this society, also comes ableism. Some of it was deliberate, such as slurs commented on Zoe’s articles, and some of in was well-meaning, such as Maia, a reporter using terms such as “afflicted with autism” and centering the experiences of parents with autistic children, rather than autistic people. Maia was open to Zoe’s feedback, and thus Kerr suggested that ableism can be addressed if society and nondisabled people make an effort to listen to the disability community.

My favourite line was: “Maybe I am exactly where I am meant to be right now. Maybe things had to get bad to make me truly appreciate how good they are about to be. Maybe. I’ve always held onto the power of maybe, the way if offers me something more beautiful to reach for.”

One of the best young adult novels I’ve ever read, Social Queue made me feel sad and angry but it also made me laugh; a lovely #OwnVoices novel from a great writer. I can’t wait to read whatever Kay Kerr publishes next.

You can buy a copy of Social Queue from Booktopia online booksellers.

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