Reading Alex Gino’s GEORGE is such a complete and loving gift. George* is a 4th grade girl who struggles with figuring out how to let her family and friends know she’s not the boy they all think she is. From the first page, author Alex Gino introduces George as she/her, and it’s only when George’s brother refers to her as “bro,” that the reader realizes where the story is going. This middle grade novel is wholly appropriate and important for upper elementary readers as well as adults who want or need help understanding how a transgender child might feel.
Gino’s storyline centers on George (whom we find out sees herself as Melissa) and how she gathers the courage to live as her true self. Along the way, George contends with bullies, false starts on sharing her truth, and feeling alone at home and at school. Her best friend Kelly is a constant support system, but even Kelly doesn’t know that George is a girl. When Kelly talks her into auditioning for the role of Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web, but then gets the role, it feels like the story may take a very different turn. Instead, Kelly comes up with a solution both for George’s desire to play her favorite character and to let the whole world know who she really is.
Throughout the story, several scenes will bring tears to the eyes of many readers. The heartfelt explanations George has for her love of girls’ magazines and for why she just can’t quite find the courage to tell her mom and best friend the truth are poignant and ring deeply true. The responses her brother, mother, and best friend Kelly have to finding out George is a girl are also solid examples of part of the spectrum of reactions loved ones may have. One of the lines that brought tears to my eyes is, “Scott looked at George as if his sibling made sense to him for the first time. George had never been gladder to have an older brother.”
As a reader, it was also a welcome relief not to have every step towards George’s happy ending spelled out. For instance, when she is sent to the principal’s office, she notices the sign that reads “Support Safe Spaces for LGBT Youth,” and later the same principal models supportive response to George’s theatrical debut. In another scene, the simple gesture of George’s mother returning a denim bag filled with fashion magazines shows us the journey to acceptance is well on its way.
The writing style is easy enough for elementary readers to handle on their own, but GEORGE is a fantastic book for families to read together. Direct references to how George feels about her body are expressed clearly and at a level appropriate for older elementary readers. The examples and details within the storyline provide concrete responses George has to various societal norms that go against what she knows to be true about herself.
Don’t miss the Frequently Asked Questions with Alex Gino at the end of the story.
(* I’ve used the name George in this review because that’s the name used throughout the novel. By the end of the story, we discover it is Melissa about whom we’ve been reading.)