Title: Gracefully Grayson
Written by: Ami Polonsky
Published by: Hyperion, 2014
Themes/Topics: transgender, middle school, orphans, theatre, self-acceptance, bullying
Suitable for ages: 8 -12
IF YOU DRAW a triangle with the circle resting on the top point, nobody will be able to tell that it’s a girl in a dress. To add hair, draw kind of a semicircle on top. If you do this, you’ll be safe, because it looks like you’re just doodling shapes.
After the death of his parents when he was four, Grayson goes to live with his aunt, uncle, and two cousins. He’s lonely and isolated, both at home and at school. And is in a constant inner battle knowing that his assigned gender doesn’t match his real gender identity.
Always more of a loner, early on in the novel, Grayson meets Amelia and they start spending time together, hitting up thrift stores at the weekends where Grayson looks for shirts that are shiny and long and seem like dresses. When a sympathetic gay language arts teacher, Finn, announces that there will be a play, Grayson decides to audition. At the auditions Grayson makes a last minute decision to try out for the main (female) role of Persephone, as a more or less conscious way of getting his real identity out in public. Of course there are repercussions. His older cousin rejects him as this divergence from the norm threatens his own teen search for acceptance among his friends. His younger cousin doesn’t get it. His aunt is angry at Finn for giving Grayson the part. His uncle is very supportive, but is also concerned for his safety. When the grandmother dies, letters from Grayson’s mother resurface, and the family finds out that even as a small boy, Grayson preferred skirts and identified as a girl. Thinking it was a reaction to the trauma of his parents’ death, the family suppressed this, and Grayson learned to hide his true feelings.
Persephone’s story mirrors Grayson’s in a number of thematic ways and through the rehearsals, the plot really takes off. Grayson is both accepted and rejected/beaten up by his classmate and has to navigate the prejudices of children and adults as well as embrace the understanding and support of others.
Why I like This Book:
While this book is on one level about a transgender tween’s process of coming out and letting the world around him know his (the author uses male pronouns throughout) true identity as a girl, this is also a book about coping with bullying, friendships, self-acceptance and the roller-coaster ride of self-discovery that is the experience of many, many middle-graders. Matching the exterior to the interior identity in Grayson’s case is strongly linked to his gender identity as a girl, but part of growing up into authentic adults is this process for every child, so I find this novel has strong universal messages for its young readers.
The broader conflict is the decisions different characters make to be empathetic or not, whether they choose compassion or mistrust, kindness or ostracism is realistic as they react to the decision to cast him as the female lead. What stayed with me most was the courage of the protagonist, Grayson. Being twelve isn’t easy. Being twelve and feeling that you were born into the wrong body multiplies that challenge exponentially. The author does a great job in revealing the inner process of Grayson’s evolution with all the typical 6th grade confusion, awkwardness and misunderstanding.
The author’s portrayal of peer support as the most effective way of stopping active bullying is a great addition to this middle grade read. It’s clear through the interactions among students the profound effect that a couple of supportive and accepting peers can have, both on Grayson’s self-confidence, and the amount of bullying that can occur. They confusion with gay and transgender terminology is also very realistic. Though sad, I appreciate the consequences the gay teacher, Finn encounters for his support of Grayson, as well as the not so tidy resolution with his less accepting elder cousin and aunt.
The characters are well developed in the novel and the balances her depiction of the kindness as well as the cruelty of both children and adults. There are even fewer middle grade books about transgender kids, than YA and everything about this book is appropriate for this age group. Its themes of courage, friendship, and acceptance would resonate in any 4th-6th grade classroom.
I also love the cover design!
- Support and Resources for People Who Are Transgender or Gender Expansive, and Their Loved Ones – See more at: https://community.pflag.org/transgender#sthash.95f0clWk.dpuf
- Gender Spectrum helps to create gender sensitive and inclusive environments
for all children and teens: https://www.genderspectrum.org
- Find Support Groups for Parents of Transgender children and Trans Youth by State http://www.transgenderchild.net/resources/support-groups/