Book review: Gracefully Grayson, by Ami Polonsky

Polonsky Gracefully Grayson Polonsky, Ami. Gracefully Grayson. Disney-Hyperion. 2014. $16.99. 256p. HC. 9781423185277.

Although sixth-grader Grayson is a girl born in a boy’s body, she tries to hide it from everyone else and pretends that the boy’s clothing she wears is actually dresses and leggings. While she spends her time drawing princesses, she makes them abstract enough so that they cannot be identified. With each passing day, she grows more uncomfortable in her boy body. When she sees a flyer about auditions for the upcoming middle school play, The Myth of Persephone, directed by her favorite teacher, she shocks everyone by auditioning for Persephone, the lead female role. It is through this role that Grayson grows confident in who she is and makes new friends. Yet she faces bullies who become increasingly menacing and is forced to deal with family members who struggle to understand her.

At its core, this is a book about self-identity, a child becoming confident and accepting of herself, and friendships and bullying. Grayson’s journey to self-acceptance happens simultaneously with the production of the school play. These two plot points meld together effortlessly, and each makes the other more meaningful.

Some characters in the book briefly discuss their crushes, but Grayson isn’t about sexual identity. There is no indication of the protagonist being attracted to anyone, and the novel doesn’t use the term “transgender.” When Grayson thinks about being a girl, her thoughts are primarily about clothes and long hair.

Gracefully Grayson will be enjoyed most by readers ages 9 to 12 who prefer contemporary realistic stories with more drama than humor. Despite its flaws, including the lack of diversity in the Chicago setting, the book is important because of the lack of LGBTQ middle-grade titles, especially with a focus on transgender children. This book belongs on any juvenile or middle school shelf. It has the potential to create awareness of transgender and gender non-conformative youth and can spark discussions between young people and adults about gender, gender stereotypes, and self-identity.

 

Jenna Goodall, Youth Services Librarian

Deerfield (IL) Public Library

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