books, Debut Novel, Reading, Young Adult

“George” by Alex Gino

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“George stopped. It was such a short, little question, but she couldn’t make her mouth form the sounds. Mom, what if I’m a girl?

“George” is as simple and ground-breaking as the question at its heart. Alex Gino has created a quiet, heart-felt, middle-grade novel about an elementary school student who was born outwardly male but who has – maybe always – believed that they were a girl. As George faces classroom cruelty, she walks a dangerous tightrope teetering between fear of exposure and a desire to stop hiding. Though this is a story about hurt and hiding, it is also a novel of hope – hope that we all can be ourselves and be embraced by those we love and even by those who fear and hate.

This story is elegantly simple. The fear, pain, worry, and heartache of George are tangible and poignant. Written from the perspective of a fourth grader struggling so intimately and eloquently with gender identity, “George” is perhaps the ultimate ‘exemplar’, the unfortunately necessary tool in the arsenal for advocates who seek to humanize the struggle for rights. This shining little star reminds the hetero-normative, gender-biased world out there that people are people, difference is beautiful, and love is love.

 

books, Reading, Women Writers, Young Adult

“Esperanza Rising” by Pam Munoz Ryan

“‘Do not ever be afraid to start over.'”

Esperanza Ortega has a gilded life – loving parents, faithful servants, an51g3pegw7rl-_sy344_bo1204203200_d an expansive family farm in Mexico.

“Esperanza preferred to think, though, that she and her someday-husband would live with Mama and Papa forever. Because she couldn’t imagine living anywhere other than El Rancho de las Rosas. Or with any fewer servants. Or without being surrounded by the people who adored her.” 

In one fateful night, all of that changes, and Esperanza’s becomes a riches-to-rags story.

Pam Munoz Ryan has created an important story for children and young adults. “Esperanza Rising” is presented with a simplicity fit for its intended readers, but with a message strong and clear and fit for all ages. This gem is significant in so many ways. It speaks of the ‘immigrant experience’, of class struggle, of discrimination and inequality, and of the importance of starting over.

Ryan has created a story in which the heroine herself sits on both sides of prejudice. In Mexico, Esperanza is wealthy, well-educated, and light-skinned. She is raised to set herself above others, to live “across the river” from those around her. As a migrant worker and immigrant to America, however, Esperanza is as scorned, oppressed, and invisible as her compatriots.

“‘The fact remains, Esperanza, that you, for instance, have a better education than most people’s children in this country. But no one is likely to recognize that or take the time to learn it. Americans see us as one big, brown group who are good for only manual labor.'”

I always find it refreshing to take a step away from heavy, adult literature and to dip my toes in children’s lit, if only for a moment. Ryan’s work allowed me that respite, while advancing my efforts to elevate the voices too often suppressed.