GEORGE, by Alex Gino, Scholastic Press, 2015, 195pp
Full disclosure: I bought George at my home bookstore, Curious Iguana [click here], in anticipation of its author, Alex Gino [click here for their website], coming for a reading/visit. On the day of, I was invited to share dinner with Iguana’s Marlene and Emily and the author. We shared a delightful hour(ish) at a wonderful Thai restaurant, and having already been deeply moved when reading George, I was then charmed, delighted, and ensorcelled by Alex. Which is still only part of the story. After dinner, back to the bookstore, the reading and speaking and questions and answers began, by the end of which, I had become more than an appreciative reader, Twitter-follower, and “I had dinner with Alex Gino” braggart, I had become an Alex-evangelist.
Before I go too far off the book review/appreciation rails, let me insert the novel-synopsis from Alex Gino’s own website. Listen:
When people look at George, they see a boy. But George 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.
GEORGE is a candid, genuine, and heartwarming middle grade about a transgender girl who is, to use Charlotte’s word, R-A-D-I-A-N-T!
Obviously, author knows best. George is a beautifully written, inspiring, hope-giving tale about the experience of one transgender young person and it is an important piece in the puzzle of making the world a more welcoming place, a safer place, a place where people’s first exposure to transgender people has to do with affirming, loving images and visions of acceptance and embrace rather than the invisibility, shaming, confusions, mockeries, and cruelties of the past.
But it would be a disservice to George and Alex Gino to limit the book to only those with an interest in learning about transgender experience. Because the becoming and recognition of George into Melissa, of George-soul embracing and freeing the Melissa-soul within, of the melding and blossoming of George and Melissa into an integrated being of Light and Love and Life in Full, is — to one degree or another — a journey everyone takes, a journey that lasts a lifetime.
We live — day-to-day — in a world where the shorthand of labels and categorizations rule. The pace of being is awfully fast, and we want easy, facile definitions of who we are and what is expected, explanations that fit in 140 characters, soundbites and Instagrams, quick pics and pithy translations that delineate and cozily cubbyhole everything and everyone.
But, my friends, neither life nor self can be so simply explicated. We are colors and complications and emotions and maybes and more-sos and magnificences that don’t — that won’t — that shouldn’t be reduced to labels and linear language.
Boy. Girl. Genderless. Young. Old. Straight. Gay. Bisexual. Asexual. Queer. Smart. Dumb. White. Yellow. Black. Silly. Serious. American. Syrian. Asian. African. European. Native. Foreign. Friend. Foe. Whatever the words and ideas we use to put someone (anyone, OURSELVES) in boxes — neat, square boxes that fit — those words, those ideas, those images can only ever describe the tiniest little parts of us.
Being whole, being Life, being Love and Light, is a journey and a process and a MIRACLE beyond the size of any words, any amount of words. We are all more magnificence than can be contained by language or label or cultural norms.
Alex Gino in George and in life, in their speaking to not just their readers, but travelling to touch lives like mine, to say, “Yes, I am here – I count – George and Melissa live in all of us — you count, Charlie – we are all magnificent beings, being who we are,” has done more than write a wonderful, accessible book —
— they have changed the world. One person, one dream, one recognition,one magnificence at a time.
I wish you could have been at Curious Iguana when Alex answered a question about making it through the days, maintaining hope, finding self; they spoke far more eloquently than can I, but I will try to summarize the answer; listen:
The thought “it gets better” someday is not enough. Some day, sometimes, is too far away. Sometimes a month away is too long to wait. Sometimes a week away is too long to wait. Sometimes a day away is too long to wait. Sometimes a second away is too long to wait. So, what I say is, focus on what is working, what is good, what you can make better, RIGHT NOW, in this second. Sometimes it may be as little as painting your pinkie-toenail bright green, but, at least you have that pinkie-toenail. Better. Right now.
Yes. Sometimes the better is as small as a toenail, or, even, smaller. But the wisdom of Alex Gino, the love Alex Gino has brought to the world with George is — has already been for me — will be for many to come, many about whom we will never know, Alex will never meet — that BETTER that comes from seeing ourselves, our journeys shared and seen and selves recognized in stories told, stories valued enough to be put between covers and offered by Scholastic Press, stories about Light and Love and Life and the truths there, the possibilities there. Here, now, where we are going.
Like Charlotte (of Web fame) and Alex would say, this book, this Alex = RADIANT! And my word, for Alex Gino and George, MAGNIFICENT!