Gracefully Grayson - Ami Polonsky

First, let me say that I am so incredibly excited to see a book for middle-grade readers that deals with gender creativity/transgender issues in such a thought-provoking and nuanced way. Kudos to Disney Hyperion for publishing this, and to Polonsky for writing it!!

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.

I pull on the skirt and zip it up the side. It fits me perfectly. I take a step toward the mirror. The tiny beads tickle my ankles and make a gentle, shaking sound, like two dice in a hand, or raindrops. . . . I turn to see how I look from the side. The dice knock together again, softly. More raindrops and my beating heart. I look up.
Although Grayson's aunt and uncle aren't quite as supportive of his choices throughout much of the middle of the novel (though his uncle is at least willing to try harder), there is a beautiful moment when they give Grayson some letters from his deceased mother, written to his grandmother. We are witness to a heartwarming sentiment regarding Grayson's non-traditional gender play: 
Grayson is who he is. If he continues to insist that he's a girl, then it's our job to support him. All I want is for him to be true to himself. 
Mr. Finnegan (most often referred to simply as Finn) is an admirable and supportive figure throughout the book, giving much needed advice and opportunity to Grayson as he navigates life at school and as a male playing a female role in a play about Persephone. Within school Grayson also finds other peer allies and manages to emerge from the torment and bullying triumphantly, much more self-aware and able to feel comfortable with her new self.

To me, the story felt well-balanced for the most part and didn't demonize or glorify anyone in particular (except for the fabulous Grayson, of course, who I can't help but love!), so it didn't feel like some novels written in defence of a particular subject, or in response to a particular social fear (though it is, in many respects, just such a text!) Although some secondary characters aren't as fully explored as I would have liked, I still feel as though they each brought specific elements to the story that were very much necessary throughout.

Gracefully Grayson is truly a standout in the middle grade genre and deserves great attention from both middle grade readers and scholars alike, especially with all the rich food for thought regarding gender, sexuality, and the fact that gender identity doesn't always have anything to do with sexual orientation. This is a much needed and fabulously rendered examination of the early years of identity formation and the role of educators and parents/guardians in the formation of stable self-image.

Highly Recommended

(Note: This review is from an Advance Reading Copy - Out November 4, 2014)

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