This book gets so many things right, but I’m finding it difficult to talk about all the things I liked without revealing the plot of the story because I want this story to open itself for you on its own – without me or anyone else peeling away at the layers for you.
1. From the very opening, the narration refers to George as “herself” and “she”, which is just brilliant. Really, the rest of the novel sensitively explores the concept of transgenderism, which is discreetly, confidently, and eloquently stated in the first paragraph.
2. We’ve discussed the concept of names, terms, and labels in class many times, and I stalwartly believe that labels are not always bad. I can’t lecture every day about the importance of using varied language, employing synonyms, and exploring nuances between words, and then spout about the wrongness of labels. In our classroom, the caveat has always been to come from a place of respect. This is something I appreciate in Gino’s storytelling because the story is, on one level, about George being a girl that’s called a boy, but it’s about much more (although, of course, for George, this is something she thinks about a lot); it’s about finding security in one’s own skin. We can’t help how others might label us, but we can absolutely choose how much power we want to give them. We don’t have to accept the labels others place on us.
3. Kelly is a wonderful person, a reliable friend, and a realistic fourth grader. She doesn’t blindly accept what George tells her, which would have been too simplistic and too convenient, but she does explain to her best friend why she reacts the way she does. If we were to read about George’s life 5 or even 10 years after this story ends, I know Kelly will still be there. Through her character, Gino reinforces my belief that one person can make a difference in the life of someone else. I hope that you all have or find your own Kellys.
4. George’s brother, Scott, reminds me of Seyton in Macbeth, who has just a handful of lines, but is the one who announces the significant news of Lady Macbeth’s death. Scott honestly highlights an important notion about how we sometimes think of transgender people when he tells George, “That’s more than being just gay.” He’s not saying it to be mean or insensitive or even ignorant. This is Scott’s way of trying to sort through his own thoughts and feelings about a reality that – if you count back to the time of australopithecus – is only now in its infancy in terms of being acknowledged and discussed. For many children and adults alike, transgenderism is hard to understand. This is why children and adults alike should read this book. Gino doesn’t shy away from this notion or skate over it as if it’s inconsequential; rather, George serves as the beginning of an important conversation.
5. George is a story that tackles a very sensitive, controversial, inherently personal but undeniably public issue. But this is exactly what we need, and Gino writes the story for exactly the right audience. There are many sources of information and assistance available to young adults in high school and beyond, but I think the conversation should begin much younger … at the moment when people start to wonder about things. If we wait until we’ve already decided to squash this important bit of ourselves out of fear or embarrassment, if we wait until we’ve already built up resentment towards people for not understanding our situation because we never let them in, if we wait until we have alienated ourselves from those who love us and who would’ve welcomed us with open arms had we given them a chance, we’ve deprived ourselves of years of happiness. Why should we deny that very essential part of ourselves, which doesn’t even hurt anyone, the chance to be happy? Or even just to exist?
6. There’s a very simple but moving line in the book where Scott looks at his brother “as if his sibling made sense to him for the first time”. This, to me, is the very essence of agape. If Charlotte had witnessed it, she would’ve smiled, too.
7. I read this book during the summer, but I haven’t had the chance to post my review of it until now. But I’m glad of the way the timing happened. A couple of days ago, Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was sworn into office. When a reporter asked him why it was so important to have a gender-balanced cabinet, his pith was like the bat flip heard ‘round the world: “Because it’s 2015.”
8. Why do we need Alex Gino’s book about transgender children? Because it’s 2015.