My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Grayson Sender is in sixth grade at Porter high; lives with his uncle and aunt, and cousins Brett and Jack after losing his parents in a car crash when he was very small. And Grayson knows he’s supposed to be something else. Throughout this novel it is clear Grayson identifies as a girl, but currently lives as a boy. It is something he hides on a daily basis, but when the chance to audition for the part of Persphone in the school play is in the offing, Grayson grabs it with both hands.
When Grayson is successfully awarded the lead, written as a female, things get complicated- for everyone but Grayson who for the first time in a long time, starts to feel comfortable in his own skin. His aunt struggles with the idea of Grayson playing a girl, but his uncle is quietly (perhaps too quietly initally) supportive. Jack, his older cousin, is openly hostile and causes trouble for Grayson at school, which leads to an event that ends up bringing things to a head, and a bid by Grayson for acceptance and acknowledgement.
Along the way there are characters, like Grayson’s teacher Finn, who encourage Grayson to be whoever Grayson wants to be, and others like Amelia; whose friendship with Grayson becomes changeable as the real Grayson becomes more visible. As Grayson becomes increasingly invested in the play there are friends in the play who accept Grayson, which helps Grayson assert the right to explore long-held questions of identity. In conversations with Uncle Evan, Grayson learns that until Aunt Sally put a stop to it (because of what she worried others might think or do), Grayson used to dress up in tutus and dresses and say he wanted to be a girl. This is a revelation for Grayson and shores up the determination to step out of the shadows.
The freeverse poem that charts the night of the play is a great way to explore the emotion of the night and how others finally see who Grayson really is. There is also a lovely letter to Grayson from the ever-amazing Finn. That’s not to say everything is tied up neatly in a bow at the end – far from it. But we are left with a sense that Grayson is finding the path to a new way of being, and that there are a lot of people in Grayson’s corner – even Aunt Sally. It leaves us with the most important thing – hope.
I really enjoyed this gently uplifting novel and it’s pitched perfectly at the middle grade, and edges of young adult, readership.
For the reader who is looking for validation and to be seen, this novel is a great start.