05 September 2015
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Before I get into my review of this story, I need to tell you a little bit about myself, because my own personal experiences heavily impacted my thoughts on this novel.
When I was in elementary school, I did swim team and softball. In middle school, I gravitated towards martial arts and rock climbing. In high school, I played a lot of tennis, basketball and bowling. I went to college to go work in motorsports. Starting in middle school, I started wearing jeans from the boys' department, because I didn't like how tightly formed jeans from the girls' department were (especially how useless the pockets were). And you were likely to catch me in a t-shirt of my favorite sports team pared with it (and NEVER with a purse, as I don't own one since I have pants that have usable pockets and thus don't need one). I even kept my hair cut short to help keep the sweat off my neck in the summer.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I was/still am a "tomboy". As I got older, things didn't "improve" much. Instead of going shopping at the mall, I went to hockey games with my dad. And instead of watching Dancing with the Stars with my mom, I would either be outside playing kickball or playing Around the World with the neighborhood kids or I would be sitting in front of the tube watching an IndyCar race with my dad.
So now let's look at George. A charming fourth grader, George is struggling with her identity. She knows she's a girl, even though she was born inside a boy's body. She has a secret stash of Seventeen magazines (which I never personally read) she has to keep hidden from her mother and her older brother, because she doesn't think they will understand. She has to deal with constant taunting from boys at school, one of which was kind of her friend for a while, and a school play dear to her heart that is not going the way she would like at all.
I love little George, don't get me wrong. I can relate to little George, because in a lot of ways I struggled with some of the same insecurities as she does. Luckily, I had a dad who embraced my love of sports, and not a mother who told me I needed to conform.
I have two issues with this novel, and neither have to do with George herself, but more of the way Gino tries to send a message about transgender kids and kids alike. The first one being that I did not like that George resorts to bullying to counteract bullying. That is not a message I would ever send my kids. I know sometimes you gotta fight fire with fire, but what George does sends the wrong message completely (especially with how the adults deal with it).
The second, and much more important, is how Gino treats gender stereotypes. This is a hugely personal topic for me, since I've always been labeled a "tomboy". While I understand the difficulties of being transgender in today's society, Gino makes George out to be transgender simply because he doesn't fit his own gender stereotypes. In addition, it's kind of offensive the way Gino portrays what it means to be a girl.
To George, being a girl means she gets to wear lots of makeup. First of all, I don't want my fourth grader wearing makeup. Second of all, I never wear makeup even now. It also means getting to try on high heels and wear a skirt. Because, and a character in this novel points out, "When girls dress up, they wear skirts. I have a lot to teach you about being a girl." Being a girl DOES NOT mean you have to wear a skirt or a dress to dress up. My version of dress up is a button down blouse and a nice pair of black slacks. Over high heels, I wear a pair of very nice sneakers or flats.
Another character makes the comment to George, "No offense, but you don't make a very good boy." What the heck is that supposed to mean? Because George would rather play Mario Kart and read Seventeen magazine over playing bloody first person shooter games with his brother, he doesn't make a good boy? The gender stereotypes in this book are INSANE.
Yes, I think it's important that we stop being so narrow minded and judgmental about transgender people. Yes, I love George with all my heart. But I would not want a son or daughter, or even a niece or nephew of mine, to read this book and think that they ever have to act a certain way or do certain things or dress in certain clothes because that is what society has decided is "appropriate". I think Gino tries to bring one social issue - treatment of transgender people - to light by throwing another important social issue - gender stereotypes - completely under the bus. That part of this book I found highly offensive, through no fault of George's. And I realize perhaps I am reading too much into it and that a fourth grader or someone in the target audience for this book would not even realize what I saw, but I wouldn't give it to them to ever make that mistake.