Gracefully Grayson is a compelling, heartrending piece of middle grade fiction that kept me reading, pretty much straight through, into the wee hours of the night. I thoroughly enjoyed Polonsky’s writing style and her realistic characters, and I was completely impressed the way she dealt with difficult topics in an age-appropriate manner.
I don’t normally do this, but I read some of the book’s reviews on Goodreads prior to writing this. A number of readers commented that they felt as if the explanation for Grayson’s feelings was too focused on wearing skirts and not much else. I disagree: There were plenty of other clues beyond wearing skirts and dresses, but these clues were more subtly expressed. Choosing to use glitter pens, wanting to sit with and be “in” with a group of girls, going shopping and having coffee with a girl friend, things like that. And of course the role Grayson auditions for in the school play!
These readers weren’t convinced by Polonsky’s portrayal. And sadly, in real life, trans people regularly face this very same type of judgment, which often results in feeling the need to hide who they are until they feel they have enough “proof” to convince others of the validity of their own identity. That is a travesty. Transgender is a spectrum, so it’s unfair to apply a stereotype of how a trans person “should” look or behave, or how much they “should” transform (it might be very little, if at all), in order to validate their identity.
Other ways of portraying Grayson’s dysphoria probably wouldn’t have been appropriate for a middle grade novel, or even applicable due to the character’s young age and maturity level. As someone with a trans family member, I thought it was very clear in the novel that Grayson sees herself as a girl who longs to live openly and authentically. She just happens to enjoy wearing dresses.
Obviously I feel very passionate about how well Polonsky handled this story, especially given its younger target audience. My only complaint had to do with the followup to the bullying Grayson endured. It wrapped up a little too quickly and easily; I wanted that to be addressed a little more fully.
But oh my word, the actual play itself! It was presented in a format completely unique to the rest of the book! It was devastatingly brilliant, just magnificent, and it had me in tears. It reached right into the heart of Grayson’s struggle and laid it out for the rest of us. You can’t help but gain enormous insight and compassion through reading Gracefully Grayson.