* note, this book was being published as George at the time of this review. In 2022 Alex Gino changed the title to Melissa to better reflect the name of the person the book is about. You can read more about the decision to change the title here.
Alex Gino's George is a compelling and tender story about the strength it takes to live as a gender you don't identify with and the courage it takes to reveal to the world your real identity. This middle-grade fiction novel features George, a ten-year-old fourth-grader who loves reading, video games, and chocolate milk and has a best friend named Kelly. George is trying to figure out the best way to tell the people closest to her that while they all see her as a boy, she doesn't feel like one, and she is, in fact, a girl.
When George's teacher announces the class will perform Charlotte's web, she thinks that playing the role of Charlotte would be perfect. It would allow everyone else to see her for who she really is.
"That's cool. If you want to be Charlottle, you should try out for Charlotte. You make such a big deal out of everything. Who cares if you're not really a girl?" George's stomach dropped. She cared. Tons." (p.23).
Her hopes shatter when Ms. Udell says George can't have the part because she's a boy. With Kelly's help, George develops a plan that allows her to shine on the stage. Seeing George play the role of Charlotte allows her mother to come to terms with George's identity, even if she's slow to do so.
Throughout the telling of the story, Gino brilliantly portrays the different types of responses one might encounter when coming out: from the excited best friend, to the bully who sees this as one more reason to cause trouble, to the questioning mother who needs just a little more time to adjust to the idea. Then there is Ms. Maldonado. She is not only a supportive principal but also an LGBTQ+ ally. We see this demonstrated by the safe space sign hanging in her office and the way she encourages George's mother.
"Congratulations! You were wonderful," she said to George, then turned to Mom. "Your kid was great tonight. You just might have a famous actor on your hands someday."
"Thank you." Mom smiled politely. "He certainly is special."
"Well, you can't control who your children are, but you can certainly support them, am I right?" Principal Maldonado's earrings sparkled in the auditorium light (p.160).
At twelve chapters and 195 pages, George is a relatively quick read for adults as you expand your perspective or preview it before allowing your child to read it. It is also suitable for reading with your child, so you can answer any questions that arise, or to read aloud to an elementary or middle school classroom. It is thoughtfully written, charming, and a good starting point for conversations about gender.
Photo Credit: Alex Gino
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