George has a secret. Though looking at her on the outside, everyone assumes she’s George, a fourth grade boy, she knows deep inside that she is a girl. When she decides it’s time to talk to her family and best friend about her identity, she realizes the fourth grade play will be the perfect opportunity. She will play Charlotte in the production of Charlotte’s Web, and everyone will finally see her for who she really is. Problems arise when George’s teacher refuses to let her audition for the part—because George is a boy. Not to be deterred, George and her best friend Kelly come up with a plan that will give George the voice she needs to be her true self once and for all.
Because of how often transgender issues have been in the news and media lately, this seems like a well-timed book as far as providing another opportunity for dialogue. It’s a hot-button topic, and a lot of people have really strong opinions about how the general community should respond to its transgender members.
For me, reading this book is part of a learning experience. I don’t have any openly transgender friends or family members, so understanding what it’s like to walk through this process whether it’s putting all the pieces together personally or beginning to communicate about it to friends and family, is something I’ve never been a part of.
I wasn’t a very self-aware child, as I think a lot of children are not. One of the things that really struck me about George was how, from the very first moment of the story, her identity wasn’t a question. She wasn’t gathering and analyzing her feelings to try to figure out what they were or what they meant. She’d already processed and concluded: the problem was that she was a girl everyone saw as a boy.
This is the toughest part of the story for me, again, because my own childhood experience was so different. That doesn’t mean that kids this age couldn’t have the experience as described in George. It just made it more difficult for me to begin the story there, if that makes sense? I think I expected or wanted to see or understand more of the process that led to this conclusion.
Certainly George is the kind of book that will make some people uncomfortable. Certainly some parents will feel that it’s not the kind of book they’re comfortable with their middle grade kids reading. Those aren’t my decisions to make. I mean, for my daughter and my family, yes, that’s a decision I’ll have to make. But I’m unwilling to make it for a larger community.
I will say this much, though: I think a story like this is important for several reasons. One is that many people, myself included, don’t know what this experience is like for someone. A story like George gives an opportunity to see what life looks like from inside this experience. If nothing else, regardless of our beliefs, George should inspire our compassion. No matter what we think about the surrounding issues, to be a child in a situation like this must be difficult and painful. Where we might have argued first, George should make us pause and take an opportunity to listen first.
One of the great things about this story is that it allows us to open a dialogue with our kids. How do we treat someone who is transgender? George lays a lot of great groundwork for that discussion. The adults modeled some great behaviors as far as a response. I liked that George’s mom struggled in the sense that it felt very real to me as a parent. I liked that she seemed determined to support her child and to find the way through this experience together as a family.
Apart from all of the politics and strictly speaking about the construction of the story, I found George to be a well-crafted, solid tale. I loved the way the author used Charlotte’s Web in the novel and the way George’s connection to Charlotte became such a powerful motivator. The character relationships felt very organic and really moved me. Honestly? I cried when the principal told George that her door was always open. That message and that gentle support is something we all need as we wrestle with hard things. To have a trusted adult look into your face and say, in effect, “I see you, and it’s okay.” Wow. I tear up even now writing about it.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
George hides in the bathroom with magazines meant for preteen girls. Her brother comments that she must be in there with a dirty magazine. She’s grossed out by the idea.
At one point, George borrows clothes from a friend and exchanges her boy clothes for panties, a skirt and a pretty tank top. George visits public bathrooms, but hates using the boys’ bathroom at school. The day she wears her friend’s clothes, she uses the girls’ bathroom and feels much more comfortable.
As George wrestles to help her family understand who she is, at one point her brother asks if she’s gay. George responds that no, she isn’t gay, and that being transgender is a completely different thing.