“do you know what it’s like to live/someplace that loves you back?”

31IhYveEJTL._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_The LGBTQ Book club met on May 29 at the Central Library to discuss Alex Gino’s George, a children’s book about a fourth-grade transgirl who names herself Melissa. Melissa’s dearest wish is to play Charlotte in her school’s production of Charlotte’s Web, but her teacher dismisses her because she presents as male. With help from her best friend and ally Kelly and the low-key support of the school principal, Melissa confides in her mother and brother. The novel ends with Melissa and Kelly enjoying an anonymous day at the zoo as two little girls.

Most of the readers who attended book club on the 29th don’t regularly read children’s literature so it took us a while to adjust to the vocabulary and pacing aimed at middle grader readers. Once we locked into the story, we did find the story accessible and Melissa’s family and friends familiar. We debated the term aspirational – Melissa’s journey is fairly easy as far as transitions go, could it be that Gino wished to showcase the possibility that transitioning doesn’t have to be a worse-case scenario, filled with rejection and violence? Did they write the transition story they wished they could have read as a child? The story normalizes transitioning and gives its intended audience of children the vocabulary to discuss trans identities, be it for themselves or like Melissa’s best friend Kelly, allies. As gentle as Melissa’s coming of age story is, the book does acknowledge that being trans is hard. Melissa’s mom is initially hesitant (she has her suspicions when she finds Melissa’s hidden purse full of images of women) but does explain her complex feelings. The ending is a soft landing and not as strong as the dénouement earlier in the book when Kelly shares clothes with Melissa, and through Kelly’s photographs show Melissa as subject and no longer object.

We discussed the title of the book. Gino has expressed regret at deadnaming Melissa so prominently, but some of our group found the pairing of a masculine name with feminine pronouns to be a compelling opening.

The novel is a great example of an own voices story. The audiobook is narrated by a transwoman actor. We thought it is useful for kids questioning their identities, the friends and families of those children and adults who want a glimpse into the mind of a trans girl.

More Information:
About the author
Interview with the author
About the book
Author’s Guide

Next meetings:

“Anna smelled the bay, its oily piers. Clusters of seagulls hopped at the shore like white rabbits.”

manhattanbeachThe Brown Baggers met on May 16 to discuss Jennifer Egan’s award-winning novel Manhattan Beach. The novel follows three intertwined characters- Anna Kerrigan, her father Eddie Kerrigan, and the gangster Dexter Styles. The book spans the end of the Great Depression through World War II. After working as a bagman for Styles, Anna’s father has disappeared and now, at 19, she has a job measuring small metal parts for the navy. However, after seeing a professional diver, she starts to train to become one. Because Anna is female, becoming a diver is very difficult and she faces a lot of discrimination.

On a night out with a friend, Anna meets Styles in one of his nightclubs and eventually through him, tries to find out what happened to her father. Styles has become a crime boss, owns several nightclubs, and married into New York Society. They become attracted to each other, and Anna becomes pregnant with his child. After Styles is murdered, Anna moves to California and with her aunt’s advice pretends to be a war widow. She later is reunited with her father.

The Brown Baggers had mixed reactions to this novel- some loved the book, while others did not care for it. Some mentioned that it was beautifully written, and that Egan really got into the minds of the characters. But others felt that the book was hard to figure out and that time shifting back and forth was disruptive to the story. All agreed that Egan did a lot of research for this novel.

A few people mentioned that the story line with Anna’s disabled sister, Lydia, was beautiful, and it really showed the love that people can have for one another. Others really liked Brianne, Anna’s aunt and thought she was an interesting character. And everyone liked the aspect of Anna working as a diver and women working outside of the home, (most of them) for the first time.

Books Mentioned:
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

More Information:
About the author
Review from The Kenyon Review
Women divers of the US Navy

The Brown Baggers will meet again at the Central Library on Thursday, June 20 at noon to discuss Thomas Mellon’s Fellow Travelers.

Library Resource Highlight: State Park Backpacks

blog_nature-backpacks2_hcpl_0816The spring weather has been so nice- and what better way to enjoy it than to visit a Virginia State Park? But first, stop by the library!

JMRL has State Park Backpacks for check-out. Each backpack comes with a parking pass that will enable you to access any Virginia State Park at no cost. The backpacks also include pocket guides to bugs and slugs, animal tracks, Virginia birds, mammals, and Virginia trees and wildflowers; port-a-bug field observation container; Big Foot Leave No Trace Ethics Card; magnifying lens; dip net; and laminated sheets with suggested activities designed by both Virginia State Parks and the Science Museum of Virginia.

The backpacks were given to JMRL thanks to a partnership between the Library of Virginia, Virginia State Parks, and the Science Museum of Virginia and with a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Find a map of Virginia State Parks here and let us know which state park is your favorite!

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