Book Review: George by Alex Gino

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Title: George
Author: Alex Gino
Published: 2015
Source: Local Library

A note: While she's called George through most of the book, Melissa is the name she's chosen for herself, so that's what I'll use in this review. Please see: How to Talk About George at AlexGino.com

Summary: Melissa knows she's a girl, even if the whole world seems to think she's a boy named George instead. She's scared to tell anybody - her mother, her brother, even her best friend - the truth that she knows in her heart. But when the chance to play Charlotte in Charlotte's Web comes her way, she realizes that this may be a way to be who she is.

First Impressions: This was so quietly sweet, and yet so comprehensive in how the world was enforcing gender on her. I keep getting the sniffles over it. I also loved how unexpected some of the reactions were.

Later On: The thing that kept running through my head was how thoroughly this is a children's book. Melissa is in the fourth grade. The class play is Charlotte's Web. There's little to no discussion of sexuality or attraction - it's this vague, misty thing that feels as far away as the moon. There's a little discussion of genitalia: she hates taking a bath and having to see "what's between her legs", and she talks briefly and vaguely about transitional surgeries and medication with her best friend. But Melissa is primarily and appropriately concerned with a child's world - her family, her friends, school woes, why nobody seems to know who she really is.

Her gender is a source of constant stress - not confusion. I think it's important to clarify that. She knows her own gender, even though everything from the bathroom pass to the play's casting call conspires to shout at her, boy boy BOY BOY BOY. It's this constant screaming that makes her miserable. When she gets the chance to be her real self, in public, with her loving and accepting best friend at her side, I swear that I felt a weight lift off my shoulders.

I know that strictly because of the topic, this will be shelved in some YA sections. That's the wrong place for this book. This is a tender, beautiful, relatable book for children of all gender identities.

More: Waking Brain Cells
Interview with Alex Gino at School Library Journal

Book Review: The Taming of the Drew by Stephanie Kate Strohm

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Title: The Taming of the Drew
Author: Stephanie Kate Strohm
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Headed out to play Kate in a summer stock theatre's production of The Taming of the Shrew, Cass runs afoul of her very own Petruchio . . . who of course turns out to be playing Petruchio in the show. Drew is a persnickety know-it-all who's just begging for a setdown - and Cass is more than up for the challenge.

First Impressions: A cute but slight retelling of Taming of the Shrew. The ending came way too fast and I didn't quite believe it.

Later On: The more I think about this book, the more I'm coming down on the "meh" side. While Drew was pretty obnoxious at times, some of the pranks Cass played could have been genuinely dangerous, such as the one that irritated his extreme allergies. (As someone with allergy-related asthma, I got really worried that he was going to wind up in the hospital.) If I were a guy who'd been having a really awful summer and found out that one girl was behind my inability to sleep because of phantom noises, my clothes all being dyed pink, and other annoyances, I wouldn't be kissing her at the end.

At least some of that emotion is probably my feelings about the source material, which with its themes of emotional and physical abuse, is one of the Shakespeare plays that make modern audiences very uncomfortable. There's some attempt to examine the complexities of putting on the play in a time of wildly different gender roles, but Strohm mostly abandons that in order to uncomplicatedly replicate the original with a gender reversal.

Still, the summer stock theater tropes (wacko director, varying stereotypes of actors) are pretty funny and Cass does have an encounter with fame that forces her to rethink who and what is worth being attracted to. If you can switch off your brain and your nitpick engine (not my strength, obviously), you could probably enjoy this novel.

More: Kirkus

First Impressions: Where You'll Find Me, March Book 1, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl

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Title: Where You'll Find Me
Author: Natasha Friend
Published: 2016
Source: NetGalley
Summary: After her mother's suicide attempt, Anna winds up living with her father and her brand-new stepmother. She's determined to hate it (among other things, her father left her mother to be with her stepmother) but she soon finds that things aren't uniformly awful in her father's house.
First Impressions: Gaaaaaaaaah this was honest and tough. I liked the stepmother, Marnie, a whole lot more than I expected to.

Title: March Book 1
Author: John Lewis, Nate Powell, Andrew Aydin
Published: 2013
Source: Public Library
Summary: The civil rights leader and congressman's early life and first forays into peaceful demonstration, presented in graphic novel format.
First Impressions: Interesting to see the intra-movement divisions of the mid-century civil rights movement as well as the intensive training they went through in order to hold to their credo of non-violence.

Title: The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl
Author: Melissa Keil, comic sections by Mike Lawrence
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss
Summary: A dot on the map in Australia is supposed to be the last holdout of humanity when the apocoalypse hits on New Year's Day, or so says a sketchy TV psychic. Alba watches with her friends as hippies and doomsday believers flood to their tiny town. At the same time, she tries not to brood about the end of high school and the beginning of her adult life, and the changes and separations that will inevitably go with it.
First Impressions: Awww, this was sweet. It felt realistic especially set on the end-of-the-world backdrop because it did feel like her world was ending.

Book Review: Two Summers by Aimee Friedman

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Title: Two Summers
Author: Aimee Friedman
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: It all comes down to a phone call at the airport gate. In one universe, Summer answers it, and discovers that her unreliable father has putzed out once again, and she shouldn't board the plane to France to spend the summer with him. Unwilling to face the idea of another boring summer at home, she takes a photography class with her aunt, sees her relationship with her best friend undergo some strain, and reconnects with an old crush.

In another universe, she ignores the phone call and gets to France, looking forward to a summer of quaint villages, beautiful scenery, and her father's art. When she arrives, jet-lagged and miserable, she discovers that her father has flitted off to Berlin for several weeks. She's forced to stay with her father's business partner, Juliette, and her unfriendly daughter.

In both universes, she spends a summer of self-discovery, including truths both painful and beautiful.

First Impressions: Hmm. The interesting part was that she changed in the same ways whether she went to France or not.

Later On: I saw the twist regarding the business partner and her daughter's true identity a long way off, given what we knew of the father. I wasn't terribly surprised but I was pleased with the honest (and not entirely mature) reaction to it from almost all participants.

The French boyfriend was so amazingly charming and attractive and perfect that he bordered on smarmy, and I was waiting for him to do something scuzzy. When she dumped him without much of a second thought and went back home, I was relieved that she wouldn't be pining.

Overall, this book is a funny mix of Deep Thoughts, Life Changes, and fluff. Summer is changing drastically, coming out of her rather unpleasant mid-teen self into a person who actually has interests and compassion outside her very small world. But it's also a lot of wish fulfillment. It was a fun, quick read and might be just what you're looking for.

More: Kirkus