Book review: Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky
Gracefully Grayson, by Ami Polonsky, tells the story of 6th grade Grayson, a transgender girl. Raised as a boy, Grayson has never felt entirely comfortable in her own skin. She spends her class time doodling abstract princesses in the margins of her notebook, trying to keep them unrecognizable because she knows boys shouldn’t do that—and everyone perceives her as a boy. When she looks in the mirror, she can envision herself in dresses. She longs to be able to express her true gender identity. Grayson is a loner, eating her lunch in the library and just trying to avoid the attention of the class bullies. Her parents were killed in a car accident when she was young, and though she’s lived with her aunt, uncle, and two cousins for many years now, she isn’t close to them. They don’t know the real Grayson. No one does.
It’s only when Grayson impulsively signs up for play tryouts that things start to change. The play is The Myth of Persephone and Grayson auditions for the role of Persephone. The teacher in charge of the play casts Grayson in this role, unleashing a background storm of controversy (which is revealed bit by bit throughout the story). Grayson loves playing Persephone. At play practice, she finds new friends, including Paige, an older girl who sort of takes Grayson under her wing. While it’s nice to have friends at play practice, and feel part of the group, it further reinforces to her the many other ways she’d like to fit it. She’d like to be able to use the girls’ restroom with her friends, to have them braid her hair not just because they’re being silly but because she’s a girl and it’s what the girls are doing. The decision to play Persephone has many negative ramifications, but Grayson repeatedly thinks that playing this role is right, that choosing to make this bold move is the right choice.
Grayson is bullied from the kids at school who take to calling her “Gracie.” She does her best to just keep her head down and stay out of their way. At home, it’s not a whole lot better. Her older cousin Jack is horrible to her. Once they find out she will be playing Persephone, her aunt and uncle begin to address not only this situation, but what might be going on with Grayson in the larger scheme of things. Her uncle Evan is much more supportive than her aunt Sally, who makes it clear that Grayson being anything other than the boy they have raised is not okay (couching her disapproval in the “I’m just trying to protect you from what others will think” mask). After Grayson’s grandmother dies, she is given some old letters from her mother that help put everything into perspective. While her aunt is hateful and not understanding, there are many other lovely displays of support and encouragement. And while I found her aunt odious, I don’t think her reactions are out of the ordinary for many people. It made the story feel more honest and I was grateful for all of the times we see her uncle being quietly supportive, counteracting his wife’s reactions.
Reading this book wasn’t easy. Grayson is very alone for much of the time. The people who are horrible to her are awful. We spend a lot of time getting to see Grayson’s thoughts and dreams, which are so far from the reality she currently is in. But by the end, after the weeks spent with new friends in the play, the story begins to feel more hopeful. It’s clear that Grayson’s path won’t be an easy one. Nothing magically becomes great for her before the story wraps up. There is still a lot of uncertainty and sadness in her life. Though the ending is a bit abrupt, it looks like Grayson will be taking further steps to begin to show her true self to the world.
This groundbreaking middle grade book presents a look at the life of one transgender girl in a way that feels completely realistic and age-appropriate. Polonsky’s writing is beautiful, always keeping us right there with Grayson and understanding how she is feeling. The true moment of beauty in this book, for me, was how she presented the performance of the play. I teared up (and would have cried a fair bit, I’m sure, were I not in the waiting room of the auto mechanic!). Many times throughout this book I wanted to be able to leap into the story and hug Grayson. I hope this book is purchased widely for collections and gets in the hands of the people who need it the most.
For other thoughts see:
Sense and Sensibility and Stories
A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
A Chair, a Fireplace, & a Tea Cozy
Publication date: 11/4/2014
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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