Tuesday, September 29, 2015

2016 Contenders: George, by Alex Gino

Guest review by Tess Goldwasser:

There are four things I want you to know about George by Alex Gino.

1. George is an important book.

George is a book about George, a boy who is actually a girl. Simply put: George’s outside doesn’t match her inside. She’s a girl trapped, for all intents and purposes, in a boy’s body. George is transgender, and this is hard for her, as you can imagine. Her fourth grade class is performing a play of Charlotte’s Web and George wants to play Charlotte more than anything. But the part is for a girl, and the only person who knows George is really a girl… is George… for now… Dr. Jamie Campbell Naidoo once said to me: books should be mirrors and windows. Good literature should reflect our personal experiences, or offer new perspectives on the experiences of those who are different from us. George will be a mirror or a window to whomever picks it up, and this is important. Dialogue about the transgender experience is important. We should be striving to understand and accept one another.

2. George is a controversial book.

Many will question whether a book about the transgender experience is appropriate for children. It’s a valid question. Are books about slavery appropriate for children? Are books about the holocaust appropriate for children? Are books about Hurricane Katrina appropriate for children? Are books about beloved pets/friends/family members dying appropriate for children? All of these questions are up for debate. I’ll admit there were parts of George that made me uncomfortable, parts that made me wonder: Will a child get this? And if so will it upset them? Ultimately, I feel it’s okay for kids to read things they may not fully understand, and it’s okay for kids to read things that might make them upset. Reading the experiences of characters, and having feelings about them, makes a reader compassionate, and I want the world to be filled with compassionate readers. (And for the kid who is actually living the transgender experience, I believe it’s indubitably 100% appropriate.)

3. George is a painful book.

There are parts of George that are heartbreaking. The conflict between what society expects of George, and what she feels inside is visceral for any sensitive reader. I found the suspense of wondering whether or not George will come out to her loved ones, and whether or not they will accept her, to be downright spine tingling. I lost count of the times I wanted to reach into the book and give George a comforting hug. Despite the book's relatively short length, I wouldn't categorize it as a light read by any means. At one point George says she feels like the butterflies in her stomach have butterflies in their stomachs and all I could think was "YASSS GURL I KNOW!"

4. George is a joyful book.

A colleague, Paula Willey, described George to me as "this year's Wonder" (referencing the uplifting 2012 novel by R.J. Palacio) which caused me to immediately pick it up, because I love books that make you triumphantly pump your fist in the air at the end. George, against the odds, is one of these books. I don't want to spoil the ending for you, but I've never been so happy for someone going to the bathroom in my life. I don't know how authentic the ending is, how many transgender people get to have days like the days George has as she finally embraces her inner self. I hope they do because it was lovely to read, like a fairy tale come true.

I don’t know how much attention this is getting from the Newbery committee. I hope some. I presume it’s getting a lot of attention from the ALA Stonewall Book Award committee. But whether it wins any awards at all is inconsequential to me. What will be most important about this book is that it will hopefully find its way to the readers who need it. (After all, the book is dedicated to “you”)

Tess Goldwasser is a magical ukelele-playing octopus in the guise of a children's librarian. She has served on the Stonewall Book Award Committee and the GLBTRT News Committee, and she is currently chairing the GLBTRT Advocacy Committee. 

1 comment:

  1. I just bought it for my two school libraries (I do middle and elementary) and I think it is a necessary purchase. I agree with your review wholeheartedly, and I know some students will see themselves in those pages, and hopefully others will be kinder if not more understanding, to certain students. It's harder in middle school; the kids are so busy worrying about how they are perceived socially, if they are attractive to others, being told they're too big for some things and too small for others, never just right, very self-centered- they have a tough journey in their bodies and souls, too. Like Wonder, George ends on an impossibly high note, triumphant for the moment anyway - but it will be a pleasing ending for my students who like fairy tale endings. L. Casey, Jamestown, RI