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.
Debut author Ami Polonsky’s moving, beautifully-written novel shines with the strength of a young person’s spirit and the enduring power of acceptancePolonsky deals her subject matter and her characters with unending tenderness. She doesn't give complicated terms for things that are so simple to a twelve-year old. What I appreciated was her refusal to clearly and directly make some people antagonistic. For adults with a child's best interest at heart it can be hard to figure out what to do and how to respond. This doesn't make them evil but simply realistic. Polonsky creates a broad spectrum of characters, all of which are given the time and space to respond to Grayson in their own way and although the reader might agree with one rather than the other, no one is vilified.
I think that gender dysphoria and transgender identity are topics which should be much more openly discussed because if there isn't an open and safe space for these topics then people such as Grayson will have to struggle much more to express themselves. Literature is a great place to start and especially a book such as Gracefully Grayson which is accessible to people from a very early age on. Polonsky's writing is simple, direct and without unnecessary frills. That doesn't mean that the book isn't beautiful. Polonsky pays a lot of attention to what she says and how and it really shows in how loved the book feels. Especially the choice of the play performed was very interesting and also shows Polonsky stretching her writing-skills, successfully I'd like to add.
The high-school environment as described by Polonsky is one of the most realistic I have ever read. Authors too easily slip into writing intrigues and relationships that, in my experience, are way too complicated and grown-up for high-school. Rather than dramatize, Polonsky sticks to Grayson and how he feels. There is a distinct difference between something being a certain way or someone thinking about something a certain way. This may seem obvious but I've read a lot of books in which this difference wasn't appreciated. Who is friendly, who is antagonistic, who is plotting, who is simply chatting, we'll never know because we can only hear our own thoughts and Gracefully Grayson goes out of its way to stay with Grayson and not get carried away by the dramatic potential of the setting.
What may come as a surprise is that this book isn't all about a boy who is transgender. Yes, Grayson knows he's a girl, not a boy. But that's not all there is to his life. There is friendship, family, school and the process of growing-up. By incorporating Grayson's identity as a transgender along with the rest of his life Polonsky subtly tells the message that it isn't something life-halting or shocking but just one part of a person. It also means that the book is enjoyable, despite its heavy topic. There are funny moments, sad moments and even inspiring ones.
I really recommend this book to, well, everyone. Polonsky deals with the issue very kindly and makes it accessible to readers from all ages. Although I think there is a "deeper" way of dealing with the topic and exploring it more, this is a great starting point, especially for teenagers. Polonsky's writing is great and the book flies by while giving the reader a taste of a whole range of emotions.