I don’t think I have ever come across a story about a young trans person written for young people before, so when the opportunity arose for me to review Ami Polonsky’s Gracefully Grayson I couldn’t help but be drawn to it. I was curious about how this book may portray a young trans person in the process of navigating their trans identity, and how they might come out to themselves, a narrative that I think has been absent from children’s literature.
I am instantly suspicious of any trans narrative written by a non-trans person. Most of my own education about trans people has come from people in the trans community themselves, the things they have written, the art they have made, and the stories they have shared. If there is anything I have learnt from this, it is that the best people to discuss trans experiences are those who have had those experiences, simply because they have the best tools to talk about what it is like being trans. But it should never fall to trans people to be the educators of the non-trans population – and that is where books like this come in.
Gracefully Grayson is a lovingly written book, focusing on the story of young Grayson, who is starting to explore her* own identity. Uncomfortable in the body she has been given and the constructs that have been built around that body, she frequently toys with the idea of her too long shirts becoming dresses and her baggy pants becoming skirts, but continues to hide her feelings through self-imposed isolation at school and at home. However, when the opportunity arises to audition for the school play, Grayson decides to audition for the lead female role. When she gets the part, she must brace herself for the onslaught of opinions from her family and the potential bullying at school, whilst also trying to come to terms with her emerging trans identity.
Gracefully Grayson is aimed at younger readers, probably from about twelve years old and up, but even as an older reader, I could see that this book held an important story to share with its readers. This is not necessarily a book about realising that you are trans or even about coming out to other people. First and foremost, this book is about learning about yourself, and learning to come out to yourself, despite what others around you try to impose – whether this is through social constructs or bullying. For that, I cannot help but commend Ami Polonsky, and thank her for making this a book both for and about Grayson, rather than about the people around Grayson as she tries to navigate her own trans identity.
Don’t get me wrong, I still found that I had a few problems with this book. The early stages of the book started to set up a confusing and problematic framework for Grayson’s trans identity, almost leading the reader to see a connecting line drawn between the trauma of Grayson losing her parents and her being trans, as though her trans identity was a symptom of this trauma. The later stages of the plot quickly undo this, recognising Grayson’s identification as female prior to the loss of her parents, but I cannot help but feel uncomfortable about this earlier framework regardless. I fail to see why Grayson should have to lose her parents, and connect this loss with her trans identity for this story to be told. But ultimately, this is a fiction book, and so, there is always an exaggeration added for fiction’s sake, even if it is not necessarily the most just thing for the narrative.
Despite these problems, I definitely think that this book is vital in helping start a conversation with young people about trans people and trans identity. No book written about trans experience by a non-trans writer is going to be without its problems, but I think this book is very aware of itself and its problematic features. It is careful not to assume, and doesn’t pretend to speak for all trans coming out experiences (for example, at no point in the novel does it assume a particular racial identity or sexuality for Grayson). Grayson could be anyone, and anyone could see themselves in Grayson. Honestly, it is a book I think that all young children should read, and I look forward to seeing more literature about trans identity become available to young people.
If you have read this book, or have any thoughts about literature about trans experiences written for young people, please let me know in the comments below. I look forward to reading your discussions.
Ami Polonsky’s Gracefully Grayson is now available in all good bookstores. As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its reader to buy from and support their local independent bookstores.
Thank you once again to Hachette Australia for sending me a copy of Gracefully Grayson. Whilst I was sent the book for reviewing purposes, I was not in any way paid or financially obligated to write this review.
*I have chosen to use she/her pronouns for Grayson in my review, in respect for both Grayson and her trans identity, as well as others in the trans community who may feel uncomfortable with the use of he/his pronouns used in this book in reference to Grayson.
© Hayley New 2016