Author: Alex Gino
Publisher: New York: Scholastic, 2015
Genre: Middle Grade fiction
Audience Age: 9 to 12 years
Themes/topics: Transgender middle schoolers, being true to who you are, bullying
Opening Sentences: George pulled a silver house key out of the smallest pocket of a large red backpack. Mom had sewn the key in so that it wouldn’t get lost, but the yarn wasn’t quite long enough to reach the keyhole if the bag rested on the ground. Instead, George had to steady herself awkwardly on one foot while the backpack rested on her other knee. She wiggled the key until it clicked into place.
Synopsis: When people look at Melissa, they see a fourth grade boy with brown hair and a skinny body, named George. Melissa hasn’t yet felt okay about telling anyone, even her best friend – a girl named Kelly – or her family, that she is a girl.
(Note: I will use the both names, Melissa and George, in this post, since some of the characters only see Melissa as George throughout the book.)
Melissa thinks she has found her chance for acceptance as who she is when their teacher announces that the class play will be based on the book Charlotte’s Web. She decides to try out for the part of Charlotte. For the auditions, all the girls are supposed to use Charlotte’s part, and all the boys are supposed to use Wilbur’s, then they will be cast in a boy’s or girl’s part accordingly.
Kelly sees no problem with her friend, George, trying out for Charlotte. She thinks it makes a statement that a boy can do a girl’s part – after all, in Shakespeare’s time, all the actors were male, even when playing a part like Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. Kelly and George rehearse both parts. Melissa wishes Kelly knew that George is really Melissa inside, but she’s grateful for the support, anyway.
On audition day, Melissa goes out into the hallway for her audition with the teacher, and starts speaking Charlotte’s part. The teacher thinks it’s a joke, and not a very funny one. She tells George pointedly that she has too many girls auditioning for that part already, she certainly isn’t going to cast a boy in the part.
Word gets out that the kid everyone knows as George has auditioned for a girl’s part, and one of the boys, who is already hard on George, starts tormenting her even more unmercifully than before.
Kelly gets the role of Charlotte, which causes awkwardness between the two friends for a time, then the two of them put their heads together and hatch a secret plan.
During the course of the book, Melissa gains the courage to tell the people closest to her that she is not George; she is a girl. She gets support in surprising places – and discovers that not everyone she expected support from is willing to give it.
I don’t want to give away the whole story, but I do want to urge you to read this book. It is extremely well written, giving a realistic portrayal of a transgender child’s struggle – wrapped up in a very good story. And it shows how important it is to be your true self. That’s the best way to shine!
For Further Enrichment: The author’s website has an excellent blog post about how to refer to the main character in this book, as well as how to sensitively and respectfully speak of or to transgender people. There are also resources on their website.
Availability: Readily available. This book is brand new!