This is a little tough for me because I’m not sure how to talk about the subject with absolute political correctness. The last thing I want to do is offend anyone with ignorance, so if I misspeak about the topic, please feel free to constructively correct me. This topic, while it’s been part of our culture for decades, seems like it’s only been recently spoken in the open. GEORGE is about a young transgender girl, trapped in a male body, longing for the day where she can openly wear lipstick and dresses and feel comfortable in her own body. A body, which she feels, is holding her back from being truly herself. Her only escape is the collection of Girls’ Life and other female-oriented magazines hidden in her closet.
Fourth-grader George and her classmates have recently finished reading one of E.B. White’s beloved stories, Charlotte’s Web. The ending of the story, when Charlotte dies, George is emotionally moved by it. To George’s excitement, her teacher announces that the two fourth grade classes–together–will put on a play for the younger students (K-3) of Charlotte’s Web, and everyone will participate as either actor or stagehand. George’s dream is to play Charlotte, but knows that her dream might only stay a dream.
Side note: I really hope I didn’t ruin the ending of Charlotte’s Web for anyone. Even if you haven’t read it–and you’ve had 63 years to read it–you must have at least seen the movie, which you’ve also had 42 years to watch.
George and his best friend Kelly make a plan to practice for their audition; George as Charlotte and Kelly as Wilbur. Besides, Kelly said, acting is just pretending, right? However, the audition doesn’t go as planned and George’s teacher thinks his Charlotte monologue is a joke. Distraught and hurt, George shuts everyone out–including Kelly.
As a character, George was very introverted, feeling sheltered and unsure of every emotion and action. Her insecurity was clearly taken for shyness from her peers and teachers, so auditioning for Charlotte was unexpected and not just for obvious reasons.
The road to redemption in this book is quick, although in the life of a fourth grader (~10-11 years old), it may seem like forever. During the three weeks until performance day, a lot happens to George. She loses Kelly’s friendship and gains it back in time for the performance. George’s mom finds her collection of magazines and reacts exactly as you may expect. In the end though, Kelly helps George’s dream come true. It’s a feel-good ending, which may be cliché to some but it felt appropriate for the age group.
This book is definitely something that can be finished in one sitting. At times, it felt too much like a dictionary. On pages 104-105 (spoilers?), author Alex Gino has characters define transgender, transitioning, the hormones to prevent/postpone (?) puberty, and that “transgender people don’t get rights” (p. 105). It’s fine to introduce those definitions and topics, but it wasn’t seamless, so it felt jarring.
Other than that, I think this book will be one of maybe many to open conversations about transgender youth. While we may not think it, kids know a lot more than we think they know at a young age, so I feel (and want to believe) that future generations will be more open and accepting than current generations. So, in the grand scheme of life and literature, this book may be mild, but it’s a stepping stone.
4 out of 5
Copy from my local library