George by Alex Gino
Publication Date: August 25, 2015
Genre: children’s/low middle grade, contemporary, LGBT
BE WHO YOU ARE.
When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.
George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.
With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.
Anyone active in the middle grade and even YA community last year probably heard about George by Alex Gino, the story of a ten-year-old transgender girl written by a genderfluid author (#ownvoices), a major step forward for the industry. At the time, I didn’t want to splurge on a hardcover and so I waited, but recently I took advantage of a Kindle deal (that is still active!), read a little bit of it, and couldn’t stop reading.
Designed for the younger end of middle grade, George is short (just under 200 pages) and has a fairly simple plot (George wants to play Charlotte in a school play of Charlotte’s Web to show everyone she’s a girl). The story is written in third person limited, which is important because this means that she/her pronouns refer to George from the beginning. Pronouns are important to trans people, but I’ve noticed that many outsiders are not sure what pronouns to use and when. Gino uses female pronouns from the first page, before George begins going by Melissa and despite what she has “between her legs,” an important statement about identity subtley slipped in through the language used.
While the storyline is simple and George is sure of her identity, that doesn’t mean that George portrays a simplistic view of being trans. There are a lot of little touches and facets of everyday life that affects George, like the gendered terms used by others, bullying, and bathing. The book is overall positive and hopeful, but it’s clear that there are many struggles, too. It’s realistic without being gritty, perfect for the target audience–and anyone, for that matter, as there seem to be so many LGBT tragedies. I have no doubt it will offer hope to many and will hopefully be taught in the future by schools as a classic and important teaching moment. (I say “in the future” because I can just imagine the parent complaints if this were introduced in an elementary school today. **Sigh**)
And George isn’t just an important book–it’s also an incredibly well-written one. Frankly, I’m utterly envious of Alex Gino’s eloquent and delightful turns of phrases. There’s a scene where George and her brother play Mario Kart, which could have been a bit dull, but it’s described in such n entertaining way. I also loved that George and Kelly found information on the Internet, because in this age, that’s what kids do.
Overall? This is a charming, hopeful, and well-written little story with an important message highlighting an important issue. In the age of Caitlyn Jenner and bathroom bills, we need to acknowledge that these topics and issues aren’t “mature content”–they affect kids too! And like all good diverse books, it provides a solace to young kids grappling with the topic (in this case, being trans) and alerts them that they are not alone, while others build empathy and a better understanding of those who are different.