Gracefully Grayson: A Book Review

Hello!

Gracefully GraysonTitle: Gracefully Grayson

Author: Ami Polonsky

Published: November 4th, 2014 by Disney-Hyperion

Pages: 250

Genre: Middle Grade / Contemporary

Source: Library / Hardcover

Series: N/A

Summary: 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. {Goodreads}

My Thoughts: Quick note: For the majority of the book, Grayson is referred to with the pronoun “he,” so that is the word choice I will be using for this review!

Over the past several years, avid readers have pushed for diverse novels that reflect a greater variety of ethnicities, sexual orientations, and cultures. This trend, no doubt a result of social media and the We Need Diverse Books campaign, is something that’s been long due in children’s literature, and fortunately, publishing houses, authors, and readers have all risen to the occasion. Ami Polonsky’s debut, Gracefully Grayson, is one example of such a novel, giving transgender teens and middle school students a voice in the YA world. While the fight for acceptance for the LGBTQ community is far from over, Polonsky’s stunning gem of a novel offers plenty of hope and passion for the movement.

The storyline of Gracefully Grayson is made clear in the synopsis. Grayson is stuck in the wrong gender; his male appearance does not match up with his inner feelings as a female. I’d imagine that Grayson’s secret would cause anxiety at any age, but transitioning from one gender to another must be most challenging in middle school, where emotions are heightened and bullying is not out of the norm. Polonsky tackles this issue beautifully; her story is character-driven, allowing the focus, as it should, to rest on Grayson and his journey from male to female. Grayson’s voice is strong throughout the entire book, and I’ll admit that I felt a strange sense of pride in Grayson once he finally found the courage to recognize his true identity. Although most readers will not relate to Grayson’s personal struggle, they can – and will – connect with his hopes of acceptance.

This story would be nothing without a strong cast of supporting characters. Polonsky demonstrates delicate insight with the adults and other kids in Grayson’s life, from Grayson’s aunt, who fears for his safety when he declares his secret to Mr. Finn, a teacher torn between taking a risk and keeping his job. This book is about Grayson, but even so, some of these secondary storylines deserve more closure {Grayson’s relationship with his cousin, with whom he lives, comes to mind}. Grayson’s transition is important, but the others’ realizations about acceptance and compassion are just as significant.

Rarely do I notice transgender, gay, or similar issues written in books marketed to middle grade readers, so, beyond all else, I’m happy that such a story now exists for this audience. Thankfully, Polonsky demonstrates much talent and promise with her debut, never shying away from the “tougher” topics. Readers see Grayson bullied both physically and mentally, hurt by family and friends, and let down by the people he had grown to trust. These chapters are difficult to read because they ooze of authenticity – sometimes I’d argue that they slow down the plot – but they only emphasize the underlying threads of hope in later events. On a different note, I was delighted that Grayson finds solace in his school’s drama department, because I like to think that theater kids are quite accepting acting is not often written about in MG or YA novels.

What to remember about Gracefully Grayson? This is not a “transgender book,” but a well-written novel highlighting a transgender teen. This is not a mere attempt at diverse literature, but a story that explores gender identity with love and emotion. This is not a debut to set aside, but a book to read as soon as you can. I can’t recommend Gracefully Grayson enough. Endless snaps for Ami Polonsky.

Pros: The story is richly crafted, and the main character’s unique voice carries the plot throughout the novel.

Cons: The strong characterization sometimes overshadows the plot, but this will only disengage a certain reader. I, for one, didn’t mind because I was immersed in Grayson’s thoughts.

Heads Up: Nothing of concern to note.

Recommended for: Fans of raw, moving stories, readers who are seeking out books with LGBTQ story lines, and those who don’t mind a heavier read.

Around the Web: “Sometimes bullying in books is written in such a way that it feels unrealistic to most children’s school experiences, but Gracefully Grayson really nails the aspect of it starting out as something that’s relatively small and then escalating from there” {read the rest of the review at Book. Blog. Bake. HERE}.

“Grayson’s story is both heartbreaking and heart-lifting at the same time. It filled me with hope while also making me weep. It’s an important story, one that must be told and should be read by anyone who comes in contact with young people” {read the rest of the review at Random Book Muses HERE}.

“All in all: Moving and definitely worth reading. If you enjoyed Wonder, you’ll likely enjoy this” {read the rest of the review at You Can Read Me Anything HERE}.

Have a lovely Monday!

Bella

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7 thoughts on “Gracefully Grayson: A Book Review

  1. Thanks for linking to my review! I enjoyed reading your thoughts, especially the fact that it’s “not a “transgender book,” but a well-written novel highlighting a transgender teen.” I know that authors are sometimes accused of exploiting a particular experience for the sake of a good story, but I didn’t see that in this one. It’s an excellent debut.

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    • I agree – I’ve seen authors do that a few times, but I didn’t experience it with Gracefully Grayson. Thanks for commenting and following! :)

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  2. […] Gracefully Grayson, Ami Polonsky’s middle grade debut, is one of the first books to come to mind when I’m recommending diverse novels. It has been a few months since I last read it, but Grayson’s transformation from a timid young boy to a confident girl is still fresh in my mind. Unfortunate as it may be, transgender characters are rare occurrences, so to come across one as well-developed as Grayson makes me one happy reader. {review} […]

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