Monday, January 12, 2015

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Sixth grader Grayson Sender has always known he wasn't who he appeared to be, that he was really a girl in a boy's body.  After her parents were killed in a car accident when she was very young, Grayson went to live with her Aunt Sally and Uncle Evan and their two children, Jack and Brett.  When she was younger, she and Jack hung out and goofed around together, but that changed as they grew older.  Now, Grayson has no friends, prefers to eat alone in the library than to eat alone in the cafeteria where she would be open to bullying, and spends a lot of time doodling princesses and pretending to be one in front of her bedroom mirror.

When new student Amelia befriends Grayson, she seems to come out of her shell somewhat, but so does the desire to be the girl that she knows she truly is grow stronger and stronger, itching to come out.  When a favorite Humanities teacher, Mr. Finnegan, holds auditions for the school play, The Myth of Persephone, Grayson tries out for the lead role - Persephone - and to everyone's surprise and over Aunt Sally's strong objections, s/he gets the part.

Grayson's wish to be able to have her mother back helps her identify with Persephone's longing to return to her mother Demeter.  As result, she makes a great Persephone.  During rehearsals, she even begins to make friends among the other cast members.  When the girls sit around braiding each others hair, they braid Grayson's hair as well.  But even as rehearsals go on through the winter, Aunt Sally continues to strongly object.  Grayson is surprised when she rejoins the PTA, but doesn't think much about it.  On the other hand, her uncle is much more supportive, even helping Grayson memorize her lines at night.

When her grandmother dies, some letters are found from her mother that had been put away for Grayson.  Grayson is surprised by the content, and while it only makes her feel closer to her mom and more confident about her true gender identity, they enrage Aunt Sally.

Contending with Aunt Sally and Jack at home, and a few bullies at school, the only time Grayson is truly happy is at rehearsals, where she feels like she has understanding friends, and where she can really be who she is.

As the night of the play approaches, things start to come to a head.  Rehearsals are not going smoothly anymore, Mr. Finnegan is always late for class and rehearsals, and refuses to look at Grayson, and the bullies just can't contain themselves anymore.

In the face of all the contention swirling around her, will Grayson continue to find enough inner strength and external support to remain herself?    

Gracefully Grayson is a story about being brave, and about the process of coming out as a transgender 12 year old.  The story is narrated by Grayson, so that the reader not only experiences her thoughts and emotions, but also how she perceives the people and their reactions to who she is and her playing the female lead in the school play.  Aunt Sally and the school bullies aren't the only ones for whom this becomes a firestorm.

I thought this was a sensitively written, yet eye-opening look at the struggles a transgender preteen must contend with, often without any adult support, but with lots of rejection.  Gracefully Grayson is Ami Polonsky's debut novel and I thought she handled her subject with respect and dignity.  There aren't many middle grade novels out there for young transgender kids to read, so Gracefully Grayson is certainly a needed and welcomed addition.

As good as I think this book is, it is not without flaws.  Other characters in the book are not as well fleshed out as Grayson.  I don't know if that was to spotlight Grayson, but I would have liked a little more depth to the other characters.  They were more like a Greek chorus than people with thoughts, feelings, and opinions.   I was also sorry to see that Grayson's 'role model' was a princess in a castle.  Princesses are so unrealistic for 12 year old, more the ideal of 5-7 year olds, and living in a castle is just as isolating as the life Grayson already has.  A more concrete role model would have been more palatable.

On the other hand, spotlighting Grayson also captures the loneliness and longing for friendship that she experiences every day in school and at home.  Grayson self-isolates out of fear that she will be found out and to avoid any potentially ugly confrontations.

It is my hope that Gracefully Grayson will be read not only by any preteen struggling with their gender identity, but by their friends, family, and teachers as well.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL


3 comments:

  1. It sounds like this book does a great job exploring a difficult issue. I can't imagine how difficult it must be for a preteen (in the midst of all kinds of changes) to not identify with their "assigned" gender. Sounds like an emotional read - thanks for your great recommendation for this week's Kid Lit Blog Hop!

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  2. I'm glad that there are more books for kids of younger ages with transgender themes. Sounds like Gracefully Grayson is a groundbreaker. Thanks so much for sharing at the Kid Lit Blog Hop.

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  3. Thats a difficult subject to write for the intended age group. And an important one as well. Thanks for recommending, would love to read this one.

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