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.
About the author
Interview with the author
About the book
The LGBTQ Book club met on April 30 at the Central Library to discuss Danez Smith’s poetry collection, the 2017 National Book Award finalist Don’t Call Us Dead. It was our first foray into poetry as a group, in honor of National Poetry in April (and a feature of this year’s #NPRPoetryMonth). Smith identifies as Black, Queer and HIV postive (Pos), uses the pronoun they and is a member of the Dark Noise collective.
We decided to focus on the first poem in the book, “summer, somewhere,” which “imagines a utopic afterlife for victims of racism and police brutality.” The men and boys who have been killed by racist violence in America now exist in a perpetual, free, summer, where they “earned this paradise/by a death we didn’t deserve.” In that same interview, Smith says they found the writing of the poem cathartic and the chance to “build this world and imagine this alternate ending, to imagine something past what we call an ending.” Book club members all agreed that they were not regular poetry readers. Some don’t like the abstractness of poetry while others find line breaks distracting interruptions. Perhaps because of those preferences and that none of us share Smith’s identities, we probably missed many of their illusions. The poem is distinctly grounded in the Black, male experience (“I am sure there are other heres/somewhere for every kind”) but one reader was disappointed that he didn’t get an emotional connection to the experience of a Black, gay man. Some were put off by vulgarity. However, we all were able to find phrases that resonated and stuck with us.
We talked briefly about the other poems in the book, which was originally two manuscripts, one about “Smith’s personal identity and sexuality . . . the other focused on violence and brutality against black bodies.” There were instances of humor in “dinosaur in the hood,” for example. More generally, we thought about the poems featured on the local bus service and the local poetry scene. There doesn’t seem to be an ongoing spoken poetry series anymore, but JMRL does host the annual Poetry on the Steps event as part of the Poem in Your Pocket celebration.
About the author
Interview with the author
About the poem
Recommended during discussion
Posted in LGBTQ Book Club
The LGBTQ Book club met on February 26 to discuss Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning epistolary novel The Color Purple . The group was a mix of people who had read it years ago and those who were had always meant to read it. All of us were surprised, though, either by forgetting characters and sections or by not knowing what to expect.
We all loved Celie’s growth from a smart teenager being sexually abused by her father, then a young stepmother, being transformed by her relationship with the charismatic Shug and finally into a forgiving elder surrounded by her family. Walker writes beautiful descriptions of faith and includes thought-provoking metaphors like Celie’s pants but we struggled to care as much about the many secondary characters like Nettie, Mister and Harpo. The time period and location were vague, but maybe that vagueness makes the story universal and reflects the personal nature of Celie’s letters, which wouldn’t organically announce dates and world events. While Celie does forgive many of the men who wronged her and her loved ones, we couldn’t pinpoint the character development that would have earned her forgiveness. In contrast, Shug never asked for forgiveness, because she was always clear with people that she wasn’t going to change to meet their expectations. She wanted what she wanted and it was their fault if they chose to ignore her very clear boundaries. Unfortunately, the ending landed flat for us, but Walker’s skills kept the characters alive for us long after we finished.
Read Alikes (other formats may be available):