Book Review: Gracefully Grayson by AmI Polonsky

As a note, I’ve gotten approved for several advance titles through Edelweiss and Netgalley, so there will probably be more book reviews in the future.

Summary (via Goodreads): Alone at home, twelve-year-old Grayson Sender glows, immersed in beautiful thoughts and dreams. But at school, Grayson grasps at shadows, determined to fly under the radar. Because Grayson has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body.

The weight of this secret is crushing, but leaving it behind would mean facing ridicule, scorn, and rejection. Despite these dangers, Grayson’s true self itches to break free. Strengthened by an unexpected friendship and a caring teacher who gives her a chance to step into the spotlight, Grayson might finally have the tools to let her inner light shine.

graysonI heard about this book months ago in a grad school class and was thrilled to find it on Netgalley. I had virtually no expectations going into the book. I was a little wary and completely intrigued. Transgender youth are vastly under and misrepresented (the only other book that immediately comes to mind is Luna by Julie Ann Peters, but it’s YA), so I was excited to see this and even more so once I learned it’s a middle grade novel.

I started reading it when I couldn’t sleep, and thought, hey, I’ll just read a chapter or two. No biggie.

I finished it two and a half hours later at 2:30 in the morning with tears in my ears.

There are some characters that I hate, some I love, and some I just want to hug. Grayson is the last one. The anxiety this child feels is heart-wrenching. I found myself anxious simply reading it. Grayson’s choice of clothes was something I never thought about before. He chooses baggy clothes because he can pretend the shorts swirl into a skirt and the baggy shirt can be a flowing top. I will also comment on why I’m using he instead of she soon enough. Grayson makes an unexpected friend with a girl wearing a beautiful skirt. There is a scene with Grayson in a thrift store when she finally gets up the courage to try and a skirt. Even more so, she leaves the dressing room to show her friend and to be herself, and this friend? Reacts the way you don’t want her to, but expect her to.

Which brings me to another of the book’s strengths. The characters reactions to Grayson range from outright hate and violence (a classmate who was already a bully), to acceptance (many of the kids in theater, Grayson’s teacher, and her uncle), to tentative acceptance (her aunt (sort of), and other classmates who don’t tease her, but aren’t friends with her either). While some of the reactions are not what readers want for Grayson, they are what happens in real life.

As for pronouns, the books almost completely avoids them in regards to Grayson. But the reader’s view of Grayson changes from him to her as the book progresses. As Grayson begins to open up about his secret, readers are likely to change the way they think of Grayson from him to her. At least, I did.

The book is not without some negative aspects. Well, they’re not exactly negative, but some things that didn’t sit well with me. Like Grayson being an orphan. It felt like overkill. This kid already has enough against her, but she’s an orphan too? And there’s a revelation with letters from a parent that I didn’t completely buy. It drew me out of the story, but it wasn’t enough to stop me from loving the book. I’m honestly just nit-picking at this point because I did love the book. I’m going to have to buy a personal copy when it comes out.

Ultimately, the book is wonderful and written gracefully. It brings to light a potentially controversial subject for many people in a age appropriate way for tweens. Though I do worry it won’t have wide appeal as there isn’t much action and does focus a lot on theater, which don’t circulate as well as other title at my library with tweens. Regardless, I will be shocked if this doesn’t show up on many Best Of lists and be nominated, if not win, several awards. For those who love character driven, realistic stories, this is an excellent choice.

 

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