Tuesday, October 6, 2015

George

A book doesn't need fancy vocabulary or intricate sentence structure or overarching metaphors to be beautiful.  George by Alex Gino is one of the most moving books that I've read this year.  It's gentle, thoughtful, painful, and thoroughly human.


Many readers are comparing this to Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky, and while the two books share a common theme, they're actually very different.  Although Gracefully Grayson was well-done, I didn't feel like I connected to Grayson on a meaningful level.  It also felt overly long.  George, on the other hand, was just right.

One of my very favorite aspects of George that I don't remember from Grayson is that George consistently identifies and is identified by the narrator as a girl.  There's no overblown intro to this: she's just introduced as she is: as George, a girl with a boy's body.  George's inner strength and conviction was conveyed by this very simple linguistic choice.

Nothing in this book was extraneous.  It was perfectly plotted and straightforward enough that young people who have questions about gender or sexuality would follow along happily.  It's not the fanciest book in the world, but there is beauty in simplicity, as we all know.

George is pretty unhappy.  She's got a super-awesome best friend named Kelly, but no one knows what George knows in her heart of hearts: she's a girl, but in a boy's body.  She has a stash of teen magazines in a zip-up bag stashed in her room--not for any *wink wink* purposes, but just to look at.  When George sees those girls, she sees people like her.  Only when she looks in the mirror, she has a boy's haircut and has to wear boy clothes and have a boy's name.  She doesn't want to grow up to be a strong, smart young man.  She wants to be herself.

She also very much wants to play the part of Charlotte in her school's production of Charlotte's Web.  However, don't think that George's audition for the role is a triumph for tolerance and openness.  This isn't Hollywood.  Once George feels confident enough to tell her mom that she is, in fact, a girl, it's not huggy time.  I mean, George's mom doesn't slap her or abuse her, but it's clear that she has a lot to process.  This, too, felt extremely authentic to me.  No matter how tolerant a parent is, it's probably still a real shock to hear that your son is actually your daughter.

I did think it was interesting that George's mom and her brother, Scott, at first assumed that George was gay, and that that was okay for them, but her gender identity was a much bigger deal.  Scott is pretty awesome, though.

This is a short book, but that doesn't mean it's not deep or resonant.  It is all those things and more.  It might be the book one kid needs to know that they are not alone.


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