When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.
George and her class have been reading Charlotte’s Web and when the teachers decide they should perform it as a play, George knows that she wants to play the part of Charlotte. The story follows George’s attempts to convince her teacher that she should be allowed to play Charlotte, even though everyone thinks she’s a boy. We also go on the journey George takes in telling her best friend, mom and brother the thing that seems obvious to her, but not to them. That she’s not a boy.
There is a line that made me stop, take a moment to breath, and realise why this is a perfect book for adults as well as children to read. When George says that trying to be a boy is really hard. The representation of what it is like to be trans is the best I have ever read and I think it was conveyed in a way that will make sense to younger readers.
I’ve read some interesting reviews of George online, and once you get past the blatant transphobic ones, there seems to be a lot of criticism that I think needs addressing. One strand of complaint is that the constant gendered language used towards George is excessive. That people don’t use phrases or words all the time that mention to children what gender they are. This is, of course, blatantly untrue and what Alex Gino is doing in this story is pointing out how often this does happen, and how this makes someone like George feel when she is constantly reminded how other people see her.
Another criticism I read frequently is how the story is too simplistic. Yes, the plot is quite simple but the subtle nuance that Alex Gino draws through it, and the way in which they demonstrate the realities of life for a transgender child, adds a depth that is subtle but profound.
The most depressing criticism I have read, other than the obvious ones that are just fuelled by hate, are those expressing that children shouldn’t read this book, that they wouldn’t understand it, and that they would be confused by the content. It depresses me that adults don’t give children more credit. I think you’d be surprised by what they do understand and by the depths of their empathy for each other. This is absolutely a book children should read and every school library should have a copy or two.
Whilst George’s experience of talking to people about being a girl is one of optimism and happiness in the end, this is not the typical situation for many trans children and adults. That is why this book is so important. It is vital to present the idea that yes, many trans children do have happy outcomes when they speak about their identity, and many adults deal well and are understanding. There can be a happy ending, and I’m so glad this book exists to prove that.