Gracefully Grayson

Last night, I finished reading Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky. Thanks to NetGalley, I was able to read an advance copy of this book (which is due for a November 4th release). I like the book, and I think it addresses a subject that I’ve never seen represented in a middle grade book–gender identity. That subject matter, however, is likely to result in challenges in many libraries in America.

I hate to even acknowledge the possibility of a book being challenged or banned, but I know that many people, particularly conservative parents, are uncomfortable with their children reading/learning about transgender people or those with non-traditional sexual identity. That’s a shame.

In my humble opinion, Gracefully Grayson meets a need in middle grade and young adult literature. Many young people struggle with their gender identity, and books like this one let them know that they’re not alone. This book provides a measure of hope and gives transgender readers someone to relate to. That’s not a small thing when one feels totally alone in the world. Additionally, many readers may read a book like this one and feel just a bit more empathy for those struggling with gender identity. Maybe, just maybe, it could make young people–and older people–examine their own behavior and realize just how difficult these situations can be.

Twelve-year-old Grayson Sender has a big secret. A secret so big that, if it were revealed, could mean facing hatred, bullies, and discrimination. Grayson was born a boy, but “he” was meant to be a girl.

Grayson wants to dress in pretty clothes, curl her hair, and live as a girl. Grayson longs to be her true self, but she knows that not everyone would accept her. Even her own family may not understand and would expect her to continue living a lie. What is Grayson supposed to do?

With the help of a brave, caring teacher and understanding new friends, Grayson may have found a way to be herself. When Grayson auditions for–and gets–the female lead in the school play, she finally steps out of the shadows and into the light. This is her chance to be who she is, but not everyone is accepting of what seems like a sudden transformation.

Grayson’s teacher is threatened because of his decision to cast Grayson in a girl’s role. Her aunt and cousin seem to view Grayson as some sort of freak. Grayson is subjected to ridicule and even injury from bullies. Grayson doesn’t know what to do, but she knows she can’t go back to hiding. She’s finally starting to be herself, and that freedom is worth any price…isn’t it?

Read Gracefully Grayson for an inspiring story of a young person determined to be herself and what it means to finally be accepted.

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If you know of any young person struggling with gender identity, I urge you to recommend this book. Grayson’s story, while fictional, is all too real for many transgender young people today. How great would it be to finally see that someone understands?!

As I mentioned before, my fellow librarians could face challenges to Gracefully Grayson, especially if it’s added to school library collections. My position is…add it anyway. I feel it’s more important that kids–all kids, regardless of gender identity–find relatable books than it is for parents to be comfortable. This book addresses a real issue, something everyone will likely encounter in some way, and it does so in a thoughtful, sensitive fashion. It has the potential to open minds and change lives, and that makes it worth any potential challenges that may arise.

If you’d like to learn more about Gracefully Grayson and connect with author Ami Polonsky, check out her websiteTwitter, and Facebook.

Followers

I try to find something positive to say about every book you see here on Knight Reader. That’s not always an easy feat, and it’s especially difficult with my latest read, Followers by Anna Davies. I guess the best things I can say about it are that it was a quick read (and didn’t take up too much of my valuable time), and it involved social media, something that is vitally important to the book’s target audience. I also sort of liked that the book revolved around a school working on a production of Hamlet. Any excuse for a Shakespeare reference, right?

Those few positives aside, Followers didn’t really do it for me. Even the cover, in my opinion, failed to capture the book. I was expecting a much scarier story based on the cover…maybe one with evil little girls with yellow eyes. That was not the case. The girls on the cover are very misleading. They appear to be younger than any of the characters in the book, and they fail to tell readers anything about the book.  Even the tagline at the top has nothing to do with the actual story. Cover=fail.

This book, as I said, centers around a school’s production of Hamlet. Our protagonist, Briana, or @alleyesonbree as she’s known in the Twitterverse, is desperate to play Ophelia. She knows she’s good, but she still worries that she’s not good enough. She’s also anxious about her place at MacHale, the private school where her mother was an acting star. Bree is just now starting to become part of things at MacHale, and she’s hoping that nabbing the role of Ophelia will make her feel as if she truly belongs. Alas, it is not meant to be…

Bree doesn’t get the coveted role, but the director, an altogether strange man who takes over when the previous director dies, wants Bree to be the play’s social media director. He’s seen her Twitter feed, and he thinks she can make Hamlet an interactive experience. Bree reluctantly agrees, but it seems there’s someone else on Twitter, @hamletsghost, who knows more about this production than anyone. This person even knows when “accidents,” incidents that are taking lives, are about to occur.

Bree is getting really freaked out, but the drama is just beginning. Soon, everyone thinks that Bree is behind the deaths. After all, the killer is using Twitter to brag about what’s happening, Bree is the school’s Twitter queen, and she’s the only person who’s really gained anything from this chaos. But how can Bree prove that she’s not behind these murders? Can she prove her innocence and reveal the true identity of @hamletsghost before she or someone else is the next victim?

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I feel like Followers could have been a really good book, but, truthfully, it just didn’t have enough meat. There was too much build-up, but the climax was kind of a let-down. It happened too suddenly, and I think the entire book could have been scarier. I expect something marketed as horror to keep me up at night. This book didn’t. I’m a wuss from way back, and this book didn’t give me the first nightmare. I can’t even call it horror, to be honest. Suspense? Maybe, but I thought it was pretty obvious what was going on. A few red herrings would have been nice.

I did like the Twitter angle in the book, but I thought even that could have been fleshed out more. It seemed to be an afterthought at times. I would have liked to see more Twitter conversations between @alleyesonbree and @hamletsghost, as well as the other characters in the book. With a title like Followers, one kind of expects entire chapters to be written in tweets, but there were only a few in each chapter. The concept of a killer using Twitter to draw attention to his/her exploits is a clever one. It just needed a little more oomph in this book.

Followers won’t officially be released until June 24th, and I really hope that the final version is a bit better than the NetGalley proof I read. If it is, I think the book will be a good addition to middle and high school libraries, particularly those that serve schools with strong drama programs. If not…well, this may not be a necessary purchase.

Geek Magnet

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I am a geek.  Always have been, always will be.  I embrace my geekhood and everything that comes with it.  Others, however, do not appreciate how awesome it is to be a nerd, geek, dork, or various other names I’ve been called over the years.  The main character in Geek Magnet by Kieran Scott is also unappreciative of the geeks around her.  In fact, she’d like nothing more than being completely left alone by all of the nerdy guys who seem to gravitate toward her.  Well, she may just get her wish…

KJ is the stage manager of her school’s upcoming production of the musical Grease.  That’s a big job, but it’s not the only thing she’s dealing with.  She’s got a major crush on the most popular guy in school, Cameron.  She’s afraid to go home every day because she doesn’t want to face life with her alcoholic father.  And she’s the object of adoration of every geeky guy in the school.  Something’s got to give before KJ completely loses it.

When popular girl Tama Gold makes KJ her special project, it seems that things might finally change for the better.  KJ begins to tell people what she really thinks.  Granted, she’s being a complete witch most of the time, but how else is she supposed to get her point across?  The geeks are finally giving her some space, and Cameron is taking notice.  Sure, KJ is losing a couple of friends, but that’s a small price to pay for popularity, right?  KJ even tells her dad how she feels about his drinking.  All the anger she’s been bottling up begins to pour out, and KJ has never felt lighter.

But does KJ (or anyone else) like the person she’s becoming?  What happened to the nice girl who loved her friends and respected those around her?  Is there any way for KJ to mix her new, confident self with the sweet girl she used to be?  And what will happen when KJ’s life at home takes a total nosedive?  Where will her popular friends be?  What if her true friends were really the geeks she pushed away?  Who will really be there when things get rough?

Join KJ on her journey of self-discovery when you read Geek Magnet by Kieran Scott.  And remember–“The geek shall inherit the earth.”

I have to say that Geek Magnet had more serious moments than I initially expected.  Those moments helped to create depth in the character of KJ, who was a bit shallow at times.  The book was a little on the predictable side, but that’s okay.  It’s a light, fun read that will really appeal to all of the Gleeks out there.  The ending was satisfying and showed that KJ learned something throughout the course of the book.  Not all of her issues were resolved, but she learned to embrace her true self and the people who she could really count on.

For more information about author Kieran Scott and her books, visit  http://www.kieranscott.net/author.html.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Before I begin delving into the wonder that is Will Grayson, Will Grayson, let me preface things by saying that I strongly feel that this book is for more mature readers.  It deals quite candidly with issues of homosexuality, friendship, depression, and everything that might go along with those issues.  The authors, John Green and David Levithan, really don’t hold anything back, and some readers may not be able to handle that.  So…make sure you can deal with the issues presented in this book before you pick it up.

Okay. Disclaimer over.  On to the fun part.

Even though they live mere miles apart, Will Grayson and will grayson have never met.  (The capitalization, or lack thereof, is intentional.  This is often how the two Wills are distinguished in the book.)  That’s all about to change.  On a weird night in Chicago that is fraught with disappointment for both of our boys, Will meets will in a rather odd location, and worlds collide.  Both Wills are dealing with their own issues, some serious, some not-so-much, and their lives begin to intertwine on this cold Chicago night.

Will Grayson’s best friend is the large and fabulously gay Tiny Cooper.  Tiny is a star football player and musical theater enthusiast.  When will grayson comes face to face with Tiny, sparks ignite, and life for both Wills gets a little complicated.  Will’s best friend, Tiny, is now involved with will.  (Confused yet?)  Now Will Grayson is a little jealous that Tiny is spending so much time with will grayson.  Relationships are changing, and neither Will is really comfortable with this.  On top of all of this, Tiny Cooper is trying to write, produce, direct, and star in the most fabulously wonderful high school musical in history, and, of course, it’s based on his life (and the lives of those around him).  What will happen to Will Grayson, will grayson, and the force of nature that is Tiny Cooper?  I’ll leave that for you to find out.

I am fully aware that this post has not even come close to doing justice to this book.  I truly loved this book, but it’s really difficult to describe Will Grayson, Will Grayson in just a couple hundred words.  John Green and David Levithan have done a wonderful job of showing how two boys’ lives can intersect and how one person can impact them so dramatically.  Sensitive subjects are dealt with frankly and with humor.  Some novels fall short on this, but Will Grayson, Will Grayson excels in giving most, if not all, readers someone to relate to.  Highly recommended.

Saving Juliet

Like many teenage girls, I loved Romeo and Juliet when I was in high school.  It was required reading in my ninth grade English class, but I never complained about this reading assignment.  (The same cannot be said when we were required to read Great Expectations.  Shudder.)  I guess I related to all of that teen angst, but I did wonder why dear old Will Shakespeare had to go and kill off these two youngsters.  Why couldn’t they have a happy ending and still stick it to their families?  Well, that very subject arose in my latest read, Saving Juliet by Suzanne Selfors.

Mimi Wallingford has been groomed for a career in theater her entire life.  Her family owns a Manhattan theater famous for their productions of Shakespeare’s works.  Mimi is currently playing the role of Juliet in, you guessed it, Romeo and Juliet.  The only problem is that she hates acting.  She has horrible stage fright, and she feels like her mother is forcing her own dreams down Mimi’s throat.  It also doesn’t help that she’s got a huge crush on Troy (who is playing Romeo), a pop star who seems to enjoy tormenting her.  Mimi wishes she were anywhere but in her current circumstances.  Well, her wish is about to come true…

Through a bit of magic, Mimi and Troy are transported to Shakespeare’s Verona where they are immediately caught up in the story of Romeo and Juliet.  When Mimi actually meets Juliet, she knows she can change this girl’s story and make it a happy one.  She identifies with Juliet.  Mimi too knows what it’s like to be trapped by the expectations of her parents.

Although Mimi’s intentions are noble, she does get into a bit of trouble.  She is exiled by Lady Capulet (who makes the Wicked Witch of the West seem like Dorothy), she sort of likes Benvolio (who is actually kind of a jerk), and she has to take care of Troy who was stabbed by Tybalt.  On top of all this, she has to figure out how to get back home and change the ending of her own story.  Can she do it?  Will Romeo and Juliet finally have a happy ending?  Will Mimi and Troy ever make it home?  I’ll let you discover the answers for yourselves when you read Suzanne Selfors’ Saving Juliet.