A Sensitive Look At Gender Identification
by Ami Polonsky
Publication Date: November 4, 2014
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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.
Orphaned at a young age, sixth-grader Grayson has lived with an aunt and uncle (and their children) for years. It’s been a lonely life hiding in the shadows, an underground existence created to protect a long-carried secret. You see, though born male, Grayson has always imagined a girl reflected back at her when she looks into the mirror.
When Grayson makes a new female friend, living a life of concealment becomes increasingly difficult. The two go shopping for second-hand clothes together and though she has generally worn baggy, “silky” athletic shorts that she imagines to be flowing skirts, Grayson itches to try on real skirts and dresses. True to adolescence, the new-found friendship is not without its drama and hardship. Emboldened by the encouragement of a teacher, Grayson decides to audition for the school play. When she goes out for the role of Persephone, things quickly become sticky, and Grayson finds out both how supportive and how cruel people can be.
I particularly enjoyed that the author doesn’t turn away from carefully examining a difficult topic. Polonsky portrays Grayson’s identity journey and its attendant struggles with grace and compassion, but also with a strong dose of realism. When Grayson’s aunt and uncle argue about her gender identification and choice to play the female lead in the play, Polonsky allows the argument to happen out in the open. And though Grayson finds a level of acceptance among the kids in the play, it’s clear that even they first look at her as a novelty and plaything of sorts. The use of the play as the main vehicle for Grayson’s self-exploration is adept, and it’s easy to see why she would identify with Persephone who lives a divided life, trapped part of the year in the underworld. There is ample material here to discuss the symbolism of transformation and other literary themes, but what shines brightest in the novel is the honesty of the narrative voice. Kids will want Grayson to persevere and triumph amidst the challenges in her path to self-actualization. Though readers may not fully understand what it means to be like Grayson, and why she feels the way she does, if they read with open minds, they will understand that, at her core, she is not so very different than they.
— Dawn Teresa
4 of 5 Hearts. A Sensitive Look At Gender Identification.
With Gracefully Grayson, Ami Polonsky presents a challenging subject to a middle-grade audience in a kid-friendly manner while steering clear of sensationalizing or sugar-coating her subject. The result is an equally heartwarming and heartbreaking novel that should inspire as well as enlighten.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Disney Book Group and NetGalley for providing me a copy of this title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”