Tag Archives: realistic fiction

George, an SCBWI Book Review

Welcome to my first SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) book review!

George Cover

Click the picture to go to the Amazon page for George!

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.

George Signed

Diapers cost money, okay?  Liz, Martyn, and Micah understood that I couldn’t afford to buy them all hardcovers.

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!

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Hopkins and Rowell

You know what sucks?  Being sick.  I started my new, glamorous job at Applebee’s the other day.  I am a waitress there (if you’re super into being PC then replace “waitress” with “server”) and I got super sick just in time for my last couple days of training and my first day off training.  So that meant no reading, writing, thinking, breathing, or blogging.  It was the worst.

But now I’m all better!  And I’m getting slightly better at waiting tables.

I also read a couple books.

The first: Crank by Ellen Hopkins.  This one is going on the Books I Recommend list, so look for a link there if you’re interested.  It’s a really chilling, powerful book.  My favorite part is that it’s part poetry, part prose, and part artwork.  Like the words are arranged in patterns.  Sometimes certain words are isolated so that if you read just them it becomes an entirely new sentence.  Which is awesome because it makes me feel like I’m breaking a secret code and reading all these encrypted messages.  I had the pleasure of hearing Ellen Hopkins speak at the SCBWI conference in NYC and she was an absolutely fantastic person.

The second book: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.  It’s not going on the Books I Recommend list, but not because it was bad.  It was a really good book.  It kept me turning pages.  In fact, the only reason I’m not putting it on the list is because I have to be somewhat selective.  Otherwise that list is going to be ten miles long.  But I will recommend it here.  If you’re interested, it’s about a girl named Cath(er) who is a twin.  She’s starting college, but her social anxiety keeps her locked in her room writing FanFiction while her twin, Wren, takes the opposite approach to college life.  Cath’s also got some family problems, some boyfriend problems, and some school problems.

Reading Rowell’s book made me realize why I have so much trouble writing realistic fiction: Real life, especially real life for teenagers, is very boring and repetitive.  If you are a teenager in high school or college, this is the short list of real-life problems that you might face:

  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Teachers/Professors
  • Classwork
  • Who is or isn’t kissing you
  • Alcohol/drugs
  • Sex

And it is really hard to make that list unique.  Like, you could add in something about how Sarah’s archery coach told her that she doesn’t have the eye for the bulls-eye like she used to.  Or Peter is going on a camping trip with his class and he is extremely worried about sleeping at night without his stuffed Zebra, Furkle.  But for the most part a lot of these books seem to boil back down to the above list.  And that’s a difficult problem to overcome.  It is.

So that’s the main issue I ran into with Fangirl.  It had this flavor of familiarity like I’d seen and read it all before, despite the characters’ names and hair colors being different.  But what’s an author to do?  If you suddenly veer off the course, people might start criticizing you for having unrealistic realistic fiction.  It’s why I have a great respect for realistic fiction writers, and why I feel like I hit a big, fat roadblock whenever I try it.  My biggest problem with rewriting The Dreamcatchers has been this block.  The Reality Block, I’ll call it.  I want my main character’s real life to factor into her dream world, and I also want the two other teenagers she meets to have their own lives and their own stories which also become apparent in the dreams.  That’s three different lives I have to create!  Three different realities that need to appear unique while still being believable, but without being cliche.  And that’s hard.  So my hat goes off to Rainbow.  She did a hard thing, and she made it entertaining.  Go ahead and read the book.  You’ll see what I’m talking about.

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