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.
As I write this review, Caitlyn Jenner has recently (re)introduced herself via a beautifully photographed pictorial in Vanity Fair, and devotees are counting down the days to start of Orange is the New Black to see more of the witty and poised Laverne Cox. There has never been a time in the media consciousness when issues surrounding transgender living have been so highly profiled. This book is extremely well-timed; I hesitate to say that it is a “very important book”, because I would hate to have this book classified is nothing more than an earnest after-school-special. Please note: Although I use the name George throughout this review, I recognize that she prefers Melissa. I only use “George” to avoid confusion between the title of the book and the main character.
There seem to be a few more well-written books emerging that handle this area, and I applaud that publishing decision. While they may be similar in some ways, each age group requires different books to introduce and to discuss issues of gender and sexual identity, and “George” is a worthy addition for younger middle grade readers.
Part of the pleasure of this book lies in the characters. George is sweet and honest, and knows who she really is deep inside. She’s also scared, confused, and lonely, especially when she realizes that some of the most important people around her don’t want her to be the person she needs to be. I say “some” because George has one fantastic ally in Kelly, her outgoing and slightly unconventional best friend. Kelly is exactly who George would like to be, and once she discovers the secret George has been keeping, Kelly does her best to help George to shine.
In contrast, George’s mother has an all-too-typical reaction to George’s tentative announcement:
“Because I’m a girl.”
Mom’s face relaxed and she gave a short laugh. “Is that what this is about? Oh, Gee, I was there when you were born. I changed your diapers, and I promise you, you are one hundred percent boy. Besides, you’re only ten years old. You don’t know how you’ll feel in a few years.”
George’s heart sank. She couldn’t wait years. She could hardly wait another minute.”
The emotions in “George” are clear, honest, and authentic for a ten-year old; you feel every painful moment as George realizes that her mother is choosing not to hear what she is saying. George’s brother, Scott, is convincingly portrayed as a true to form older brother whose casual observations show that he knows his sibling better than you might think. There are other real-life issues at play in this book, including friendship struggles, school worries and bullying from one classmate that reads as if it comes from personal experiences.
For me, however, it is the simple explanations that resonate most in this book. Casual and well-intentioned observations such as “you will always be my little boy” hurt George, much like tiny arrows, and it made me more aware of what I was saying to my friends’ younger children. Allowing children to explore their personality, beliefs and gender identity within a secure setting is essential, and my heart ached to see George struggle each day. The questions George faces from her classmates reflect the discomfort and curiosity many cisgender people feel when encountering those who are developing a different gender identify from their own.This book manages to express the emotional roller-coaster of self-identifying, providing a connection for readers who may be going through the same self-discovery while demonstrating how it feels to be transgender to the cisgender readers. There are a wealth of openings here to open the discussion and to share information with younger readers, and this would be great book for parents and kids to read together.
At the end of book, George is allowed a perfect day to be who she really wants to be, and the joy expressed is something we can only wish for every child to experience. It can be difficult to talk to younger readers about gender or sexual identity, and I’m so happy to add George to the list of books to reference. I can only hope that there are more wonderful books for younger middle grade readers such as this to support acceptance and to enrich our bookshelves.
George is published by Scholastic and a copy was provided by the publisher at BEA in exchange for an honest review. It is available for purchase today from your favourite booksellers, such as Indigo, Kobo and your favourite indie bookseller. ISBN: 9780545812542, 240 pages.
Not sure how to open the discussion on gender identity with your own readers? Check out these great resources to start:
LGBTQ+ Term Definitions
The Gender Spectrum
Affirming Gender in Elementary Schools
We Need Diverse Books