Welcome to my first SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) book review!
This is one of the few books I managed to get signed. I had to skip the autograph session on Sunday, due to reasons, but Alex Gino had a signing on a different day. I loved meeting them. I especially loved their sense of humor, so similar to my own.
On to the review!
Book: George by Alex Gino
Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction
Recommendation: Buy it!
Run-On Sentence Synopsis: George, who calls herself Melissa in her own head, is a transgender girl in the fourth grade who is struggling to come to terms with her gender identity and make herself known as the girl she is, and she desperately wants to play Charlotte in her class’ play of Charlotte’s Web, but she encounters obstacles in the form of school bullies and her teacher who believes a boy simply can’t play Charlotte, and as Melissa gains confidence she faces the kind of adversity you’d (unfortunately) expect her to face because the world suffers from an overpopulation of narrow-minded dickweasels.
Positive Feedback: If I had to describe this novel in one word, it would be “accessible.” Though it is middle grade, I believe that anyone could pick it up and enjoy it. Better yet, I believe people can learn from it. From the sounds of things, they already have. Another word I’d use is “emotional.” As I read, I could truly feel myself embroiled in Melissa’s inner turmoil, her sadness, her frustration, and her desperation to be the real her. She is a well-developed character, her struggle is believable, and the story has the right blend of sad and heartwarming moments. It is definitely difficult to put this book down.
Constructive Criticism (I refuse to call it negative feedback): While I’m aware I am not the target audience for this book, I still felt that the stakes could have been raised just a little higher. There was so much riding on the play, and the antagonism from Melissa’s teacher and the boy who bullies her, but the pay-off was that everything worked out easy peasy (though that’s probably not how Melissa felt). Alex Gino already pointed out that this was because LGBTQ youth deserve happy stories with “happily ever after” endings just as much as non-LGBTQ youth. I get it. But still, a little push to heighten the tension would have made the book a little more captivating. I also wish I could have seen more depth from some of the characters, but as there were many characters, and it’s a short book, I understand why Gino couldn’t go in depth with every single one of Melissa’s acquaintances. Also, there were times when I wasn’t sold on the dialogue, but I feel the target audience would have been. Over all, these are small nitpicks, and the book is a great read.
A Note on Identity: When people (namely narrow-minded dickweasels) hear the phrase, “I identify as…” I don’t think they stop to consider what the words “identify” and “identity” mean. Identity comes from within. Outward characteristics and physical appearance don’t actually define someone as much as some might think. Identity comes from likes and dislikes, what makes you passionate, angry, scared, sad, excited. It’s nuanced and beautiful, and unique to every individual. I identify as straight and (cis) female. I identify as a pre-published author, a wife, a mother, a teacher, a nerd, and a Jewish Atheist. Even if someone walked up to me and said, “You don’t look Jewish. You look Christian,” I’d still be able to say, “That may be, but I assure you I am Jewish. You cannot dictate my identity to me. I say to you, good day!”
In the same way, if someone has outward characteristics that make them appear male or female (to you), that ultimately plays second fiddle to how that person feels on the inside. We cannot force a gender identity on someone any more than we can force a religion on them, or a different name, or a different favorite food, favorite animal, phobia, sexual orientation, race, culture, political party, et-freaking-cetera.
You don’t have to love every other human being on this planet, but you do have to accept their right to live and be who they are, just as they should accept the same about you.
*Steps off soapbox*
Buy George. It’s great. Next review will be Written in the Stars, by Aisha Saeed. Until then!