In this review I will be referring to Grayson as ‘they’ because neither he nor she feels 100% appropriate. This is my personal interpretation and not meant to offend or confuse anybody. This gender issue doesn’t surface in the book itself since the story is told in the first person from Grayson’s perspective.
Up until recently twelve year old Grayson had been able to look in the mirror and see who they should be rather than who they were. Lately the strategy hasn’t been working anymore. No matter how hard they imagine and pretend all Grayson sees is the reflection of a boy rather than the image of the girl they really are.
Having lost their parents at a very young age, Grayson lives with his Aunt, Uncle and two cousins. Because Grayson holds the secret of their identity close, they haven’t been interacting with other kids their age for years. The happiness when it seems that Grayson may have found a new friend after four years without, broke my heart.
“(...) until I feel up to explaining to Aunt Sally and Uncle Evan that I have plans with a friend for the first time since second grade”.
When Grayson auditions for the female lead in a school play and gets the role it appears to be a dream come true at first glance. It isn’t long before reality comes crashing in. That reality is very well dealt with in the book. It’s not all pain and soul searching. Grayson’s life is far from easy but it isn’t unbearably heard all the time either. It would have been easy to turn this story into a tear jerking drama; easy but lazy and unsatisfactory for the reader. The way the story is told I got a wonderful appreciation of the shifts taking place in Grayson as they balance between the joy of being allowed to portray a girl and the fear of making themselves the focus of ridicule and bullying.
“Everything keeps flip-flopping back and forth, from bad to good, over and over again. Sometimes everything is light. Other times, everything is dark.”
It would have been very easy to dislike, if not hate Aunt Sally but a lot of her reasons for wanting to stop Grayson from taking the female lead in the play have to do with her worrying about them (and his cousins) getting bullied in school. Having said that, it got a bit harder to feel sympathy for her once she reflected on how Grayson’s choice would reflect on her parenting skills. Still, all those fears on Sally’s part are undoubtedly worries every parent of a transgender child would have. What did bother me though was the fact that especially the adults in this book were a bit one dimensional; either understanding and supportive or the opposite. While that may work very well for the age group this book is aimed at (and I’m not even sure about that, it’s easy to underestimate kids), it left me rolling my eyes once or twice.
I really appreciated that this book ended on a positive but not miraculous note. Grayson has come a long way but the author doesn’t suggest and the reader doesn’t walk away with, the illusion that all Grayson’s problems have been solved. This is the (very difficult) start of a complicated journey. Grayson has taken the first steps and, we are led to believe, found the inner strength to be true to their real identity. Nothing else is promised.
It was hard to read this book without comparing it to ‘Wonder’ by R.J. Palacio and I don’t mean that in a bad or derogatory wayl. Like ‘Wonder’ this book deals with a youngster who doesn’t quite fit in because they don’t conform to the norm. In both books the main character has to face their otherness in relation to the rest of the world and both characters manage to come out on the other side maybe not so much victorious but definitely intact and empowered.
“(...) when I look at myself in the giant floor-to-ceiling mirrors, I finally see myself the way I’m supposed to be - my inside self match up with my outside self. And now, everyone else will finally see it too.”
Overall this was a wonderful book I’d recommend to any reader aged 10 or over. Understanding otherness is something we can’t teach our kids or ourselves early enough.