At its core, George is a very simple story: It is about a girl named Melissa, who others perceive as a boy named George. Melissa is navigating this world full of hurts both intentional and unintentional, largely centered around the fundamental misconception that she is a boy when she knows she is a girl, trying to figure out how to tell people she is a girl...and also trying to land the part of Charlotte in her school's theatrical production of Charlotte's Web. The importance of the existence of and of free access to a story like George, however? Immeasurable.
Alex Gino, in writing George, has given people of all ages access to a story that looks within the mind of a transgender child and gives voice to her pain and her struggles. In telling Melissa's story, they demonstrate how even very well-intended words (such as gender-specific compliments) can serve as microaggressions that wear away at the recipient, and also how fundamentally simple it should be to accept that of course Melissa knows that she is a girl, regardless of her young age or what she was assigned at birth.
Who is this book for? Everyone. Yes, it is a piece of children's literature; however, I would argue that adults--especially within a society in which George is regularly challenged--have a lot to learn from this book, as well.
George is the first on the ALA's list of the 10 Most Challenged Books of 2020, and it has held that #1 Most Challenged spot for the past three years. In fact: George was published in late August 2015. It appeared on the ALA's Top 10 Most Challenged Books list in 2016, and has been on that list every year since.
Why is this book being challenged?
I found George to be an incredibly wholesome, age-appropriate book for its targeted audience (Melissa is a fourth-grader, and this book very well fits a fourth-grade reading level both in terms of vocabulary and content)--in fact, I admired how carefully Gino approached a topic that can be very sensitive for children; they clearly took great care in how they wrote about the issues of gender that are at the core of their story. Gino even provides a very patient, understanding and helpful FAQ at the end of the book that addresses many of the questions that children or adults might have upon reading George; they also have a brief guide for "How to Talk About George" on their website here.
So, that being said: Why, exactly, is George so regularly challenged? To better understand this, let's first consider what a challenge consists of and who is presenting these challenges. According to the ALA and the Office of Intellectual Freedom, a challenge is "an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group" (source). If you look at the breakdown the ALA provides: most challenges come from parents, and are attempts to remove books from public libraries, schools, and school libraries. (See the infographic below for details.) The ALA also tracks the reasons given for challenging a book--what, exactly, those objections are that the person or group issuing the challenge gives as a justification for removing or restricting access to it. What reasons have been given for George? Let's take a look (source):
What actually isn't appropriate?
George is a lovely story. It is beautifully written, struck me directly in my feelings in the best possible way, and has very clearly been lovingly crafted by an author for whom the issues presented are both important and personal. I cannot recommend it highly enough; I think everyone should read it. This would be true even if it were the case that our society had progressed to a point where transgender people of all ages are understood and accepted. We are by no means in such a society, however, and that fact makes it even more important to read this book. Right at this very moment in the USA, for example, multiple bills across over two dozen states are focused on limiting the rights of transgender people. You can find a list of this anti-transgender legislation here.
For a transgender child, George could be a place of refuge: the one book they find which actually depicts someone to whom they really, truly can relate. For a child who isn't transgender, George is valuable as a way of better understanding transgender people--both in terms of what it is to be transgender, and in terms of how their own actions can either hurt or help a transgender peer. The same holds true for adults who read George. I came away from this book both feeling that I'd enjoyed a very good story, and that I have a better understanding of and empathy for transgender people.
Read George. Talk about it. Share it with everyone you know. Even if you don't read much, you can read George--after all, it's a children's book. Even if you don't read at all, you can check out the audio book: it will only take 3 hours of your time.
A Challenged Books Challenge
This is the first installment in the series of 10 book reviews I will be doing as part of my challenge to read and review all of the ALA's Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2020. Read more about this challenge, including the other books involved, here.
The next book I will be reviewing is Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds. Look for that review here on my blog on May 14. My plan is to have a fresh review from this series up every other Friday throughout the summer.
Elizabeth Wilcox. Writer, Avid Role-Player, Amateur Mixologist. Survivor.