by Alex Gino
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
BE WHO YOU ARE
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.
George thinks she'll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte's Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can't even try out for the part... because she's a boy.
With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte -- but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
This is the first book that I can recall reading that features a transgender main character. The subject matter alone is interesting and topical. However, I was somewhat disappointed with the book.
Please, dear author, I want some more...
I've seen a few books that have been released lately for middle graders and young adults that deal with transgender characters. And that's great! I hope we'll be seeing more in the future. This is the first one I've been able to get my hands on, and I hoped I would enjoy it.
George certainly starts off strong. I flew through the first few chapters and really found myself getting drawn into George's life. The characters here are younger than the ones in many of the middle-grade titles I've read recently, with George herself only being ten. That wasn't an immediate deterrent for me... but it did cause me some consternation as the book went on.
It's all a matter of taste...
I think perhaps certain things are exaggerated in the story to accentuate George's plight. The school itself is weirdly sexist, forcing the kids to line up in boys' and girls' lines and walk in said lines through the hallways. This actually made me think that it was historical fiction... but there's talk of cell phones, so I guess it's supposed to be in the present. Added to that are the rigid gender roles and stereotypes that are abundant throughout. Such a big deal is made of George not being allowed to even try out for the part of Charlotte in the play because she's a "boy".
My main reason for not being able to wholeheartedly recommend this book, however, is because of the writing. It's just not that strong. The author's very adult voice continually slips into the narrative, constantly reminding us that we're reading a story about a kid written by an adult... who's forgotten what it was like to be a kid. As a result, the child characters' voices don't ring true, and I rolled my eyes quite a few times.
Let's get technical...
The writing itself is technically okay (with a few exceptions), but a bit inconsistent in places. The narration is third-person, limited omniscient so we see everything through George's eyes... and yet there are a couple of instances where we slip into Kelly's head and know what she's thinking. It's jarring and weird, and should have been caught by an editor.
I wanted to like this book more than I did. The subject matter is important, as is the message about being yourself. However, the story itself isn't that amazing, and the writing is kind of weak. George is not a terrible book... but I don't think that it was as good as it could have been.
My hope is that books like this will pave the way for more in the same vein, so that young readers can learn about different life experiences that they might not have read about before.
The word man hit like a pile of rocks falling on George's skull. It was a hundred times worse than boy, and she couldn't breathe. She bit her lip fiercely and felt fresh tears pounding against her eyes. She put her head down on her desk and wished she were invisible.
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 ladybugs