Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky is one of the more tragic works that I have read so far. It’s about a sixth grader named Grayson that has to make a really difficult decision that will change his life forever. He realizes at a certain point that he cannot continue living a lie and presenting as male, even though it would make him less vulnerable to bullies and other struggles that trans teens face.
The way that Grayson decides to “come out” to her peers is by auditioning for the role of Persephone in the school play, which is the lead female role. I admired how bold this move was on her part, but I knew that it would immediately have harsh social repercussions. That was really hard for me to cope with as a reader and as someone who was relentlessly bullied in middle school.
Not only is Grayson trying to navigate her gender identity in school, she is doing so without the guidance of his parents. They died when she was young. I know that not all parents are supportive, but it is clear in this novel that they would have been if they were around. Grayson’s aunt and uncle that she currently lives with are nowhere near as understanding of her gender identity.
Grayson’s bravery to choose to live her truth, despite how hard it can be, is a theme that I think is important for young readers. I know that I personally hid aspects of myself that I knew would be hard to talk about in school. However, young people should not be denied the comfort of living the way that they want to.
“White and black. Light and dark. And me, in the middle of it all. Gray.”
Weirdly enough, I have also read George by Alex Gino and the plots are pretty similar. George is a young trans girl that auditions for the part of Charlotte in Charlotte’s web. However, she’s a fourth grader, while Grayson is a sixth grader. George’s story is also clearly geared toward a younger audience, which is why I would prefer using Gracefully Grayson in the middle/high school classroom.
Although it bears similarities to Gracefully Grayson, George is a valuable story in its own right. You see more of George’s struggles with coming out to her friends and family, while Grayson’s coming out is more public and less intimate. Since George is much younger, it is heartwarming to see her ability to understand her identity and communicate that to her loved ones.
I think that the most important thing about George is that it does away with the trope that trans people come out much later in life. This is a good book to read in concert with the picture book I Am Jazz, which I wrote about earlier. It is important to discuss how trans identities are found in all ages and are always valid regardless of when one comes out.