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.
Is that synopsis enough to tell you where this is going?
“George” is a book about a fourth-grader with a secret and it’s written for young readers. An old-fashioned chapter book, it’s the kind of story that I remember my own grade school teachers reading aloud to the entire class while we laid our heads down on our desks.
Except that this particular story never would have been told back then. It’s about a “trans kid” struggling with issues of identity, acceptance and self-esteem.
And it’s delightful.
Thanks to my daughter Simone — who has a talent for picking out material that enriches my understanding of the complexities of today’s diverse world — I received “George” as a birthday gift. It was an engaging and fast read and one I would recommend to any adult, as well as to any middle school student.
How could I not be intrigued? Aside from the title, the story itself revolves around George’s yearning to play the part of Charlotte the spider in a school production of “Charlotte’s Web.” His teacher won’t consider the possibility, saying Charlotte is a role suited for girls and, really, shouldn’t George be more interested in the role of Wilbur the pig or Templeton the rat?
Like any other novel casting light onto a character’s aspirations and inner conflicts, this one puts you in George’s place as she tries to keep her secret from her mother and older brother, her best friend and the class bully — all the while wanting to be her true self.
The transgender author, Alex Gino, spent 12 years working on the story, one of half-dozen novels published last year in a variety of genres, including science fiction and young adult romance, that feature transgender children and teenagers, according to The New York Times.
According to reviews I’ve read, the book is being well received by its intended audience — 8- to 12-year-olds — and many parents and teachers, though it also has been criticized by some as inappropriate for young readers.
To which I say, B.S.
Just as a majority of Americans have come to accept that same-sex marriage is all about the love between two people rather than who those people are, it’s important to extend the same empathy to transgender individuals. They are, after all, a group of seriously misunderstood people only who want the same thing as any of the rest of us — the opportunity to be themselves.
I say we set aside the celebrity spectacle of Caitlyn Jenner and think about the ordinary men and women — and the boys and girls — who feel trapped in a body that doesn’t reflect your true self to the world.
Gino said he originally wanted to call the book “Girl George,” as a homage to the ’80s-era pop singer Boy George. But he (they) agreed with his (their) editor’s suggestion to go with just “George” even though his (their) fictional character, after coming out, likely would prefer to never hear herself called that again.
“But,” Gino says, “I think that gives the audience a little extra insight into the discomfort of being trans in a world that expects you to be someone you aren’t.”
Read an interview with Alex Gino and listen to a clip from the audio book.
Photograph: Blake C. Aarens