Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Middle-Grade Review: George

My last audio book of 2015 was George by Alex Gino, a middle-grade novel about a transgendered child struggling with her identity. I enjoyed the audio book, which tackles a tough topic with just the right touch for young readers.

When everyone looks at George, they see a boy. But George doesn’t feel like a boy. For as long as she can remember, George has known that she is really a girl on the inside. No one knows her secret, not even her best friend, Kelly. When George gets home from school and is alone in the house for a short time, she gets her secret stash of teen girl magazines out of her closet. She locks herself in the bathroom, flips through its glossy pages imagining herself in them, and tries to brush her hair down over her forehead so it looks like bangs. When her mother and her older brother, Scott, come home, she stashes the magazines away again.

George thinks she will have to live with this excruciating secret forever, until an opportunity comes along at school. Her grade is putting on a play of Charlotte’s Web, one of George’s favorite books, and she dreams of playing Charlotte. She will be the most amazing Charlotte ever, and then everyone will know who she really is. Things don’t go as planned because her teacher won’t even let her try out for the part of Charlotte, insisting that the boys only try out for male roles. But with Kelly’s help, they come up with a plan.

Middle-grade novels that deal with sensitive topics like transgendered people are rare (though hopefully becoming less so). I really enjoyed this story. The author got the tone just right – it is about a serious topic but never gets too dark for young readers. If anything, the reactions of the people close to George may be a bit unrealistically positive - though all of the characters take a little while to process her news, most are accepting of her in the end.

I like plenty of hope and optimism in my fiction, though, and this is a hopeful story for children who may see themselves in the character of George. Perhaps even more important, it models accepting and tolerant attitudes for others who may encounter children like George among their classmates or family members. The audio production was well-done, and the characters felt real to me. George deserved its recent Stonewall Book Award, for children’s and YA books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience.

240 pages, Scholastic

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