George by Alex Gino

George by Alex GinoGeorge by Alex Gino
Published by Scholastic Press on August 25, 2015
Genres: Juvenile Fiction, LGBT
Pages: 195
Source: I borrowed this book from my local library.
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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.

“To be honest, I’m not sure what I think of a person who doesn’t cry at the end of Charlotte’s Web.”

George is a middle-grade novel about a trans kid, written by a genderqueer author (which is under the trans umbrella). This makes a difference; you can feel the difference in voice. This story isn’t merely about a marginalized voice, it is that voice.

From the very first page, we encounter a main character who uses the male name her parents gave her, combined with female pronouns. There’s a quiet confidence about this. It speaks to the character’s internal knowledge of her gender identity. She just knows who she is, like anyone else. There is no “trying out” girlish things, or taking time to “dress up as” a girl. George is a girl. It isn’t something that wavers in the face of the typical 10-year-old self-consciousness, in the same way so many who are cisgender didn’t question their gender identity when we were young…even if they were tomboys or enjoyed things outside of gender norms.

The journey in George isn’t “who am I?” (the angle many books written by cisgender authors tend to take). Instead, it is “how can I be me?”

That being said…I had to take issue with passages like this:

“Gym class meant boys yelling at her to run faster or throw the ball harder. She would hate to run a mile on a track with a bunch of them.”

And when her friend Kelly says:

“When girls dress up, they wear skirts. I have a lot to teach you about being a girl…”

No, no, no. That’s problematic. (Thinking of Tomboy by Liz Price. Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls.)

But those stereotypes are everywhere, and they’re really, really hard to avoid. I wonder if that was the easiest context for a middle-grade audience? My optimistic side wants to believe the point could have been made without including those stereotypes, though. Most of George takes place at the school, which was the perfect setting to show all the little (and big) ways society likes to segregate us by gender. Girls have these choices, boys have those choices. Girls go here, boys go there. Period. No questions. (Why???)

I loved the characters. I really loved the writing (and most of you know how picky I am about non-twaddly kid lit). When George’s name shifts to Melissa, the timing was so seamless, it felt so natural and right, I barely noticed! How did Alex Gino manage that? Gino has a keen sense of style, a lovely way with words, and the ability to turn the simplest of moments into something profound:

“Trying to be a boy is really hard.”

  • I had this out from the library a month or so ago with the highest of hopes of getting to it, but of course didn’t. I still want to read this one SOON, and enjoyed reading your thoughts!

  • I have the same story as Katie – except I started just the beginning and had to get it back! It sounds so, so good, though.

  • Gotta have it!