by Ami Polonsky
Original Publication Date: November 4, 2014
Length: 250 pages
Obtained Via: I received an electronic advanced reader’s copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my final opinion of the work.
View at the Traffic light:
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 acceptance.
Gracefully Grayson is a powerful book. While the heart of the book lies with Grayson coming to terms with her gender identity–because that’s really the crux of the matter, that Grayson knows that “he” is a girl–it’s also a coming-of-age story. I rarely read middle grade fiction and when I do I tend to go for fantasy or science fiction, but I’m glad I gave this contemporary a shot.
Gracefully Grayson has so many wonderful facets. There’s the idea of gender identity, of course, but also themes of family, friendships, and pursuing your passions. Grayson’s parents were killed in an accident before the start of the story, and Grayson lives with her aunt and uncle. The family exploration was really well-done. Grayson’s guardians mean well and support Grayson, but they also want Grayson to be safe, which means at times they make mistakes. Still, the level of caring and concern is palpable and it was such a relief to read a book without absent or cruel guardians.
Unfortunately, that same support doesn’t always extend to other areas of Grayson’s life. Grayson finds herself losing friends as she comes to terms with the fact she’s a girl stuck in a boy’s body and wants to be anything but that. The bullying aspect of the novel was difficult to read but felt very true to middle school. 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.
Perhaps the best part of Gracefully Grayson was Grayson deciding to pursue a passion in the school play. Grayson decides to try out for the lead part–which just so happens to be female. While the faculty teachers are afraid that this will lead to trouble for Grayson, she does so well in the part that they cast her in it. This really worked in the book on two levels–one, it gave Grayson something to be passionate about(I always appreciate it when characters in books have interests they invest themselves wholly in), and it also led to a great secondary subtext about the tumult of Grayson’s gender experience. It was a great way to explore Grayson’s desire to transition. It also led to a really great adult character in the form of one of Grayson’s teachers, who was so supportive it was heart-warming.
The only minor letdown in Gracefully Grayson was where the book ended. Grayson has mostly come to term with things, but the ending seemed very abrupt and like there could easily be one or two more chapters exploring what the “after” would mean for Grayson. I felt the book lead me up to the tipping point of the novel and then just sort of. . . fizzled. All the exploration had been in-depth up to that point, and the last few chapters seemed almost cursory. However, that one minor issue did by no means negate how thoughtful the rest of the book was.
Gracefully Grayson is not the type of book I would normally read, but I am glad I gave it a chance. It was such a thoughtful middle grade novel for the most part and I really felt for the titular character. I also loved the emphasis on the caring adults in Grayson’s life. 4/5 cupcakes.