Polonsky, Ami. 2014. Gracefully Grayson. New York: Hyperion.
Sixth-grader Grayson doodles secret princesses in class by drawing seemingly abstract triangles with circles on top. Gym shorts and extra-long tee-shirts are transformed into flowing skirts and dresses with a bit of imagination and squinting in the mirror. Nobody knows that Grayson is a girl, and she avoids interacting with others and thinking too deeply about things in order to deal with the discomfort.
When a new girl moves to town and joins Grayson’s class, Grayson’s internal world is opened up with a fledgling friendship. The two visit thrift stores together and Grayson longs to shop in the same section. Then one day, she tries on a skirt and is discovered by her friend, who is shocked and uncomfortable.
After feeling rejected, Grayson goes back to eating lunch alone. One day, she notices a flyer for the upcoming school play, The Myth of Persephone, that her favorite teacher, Mr. Finnegan, is directing. On a whim, Grayson decides to audition for the title role. When she lands the role, her excitement is palpable as she finally feels visible. But sadly, most of her peers and family members have difficulty accepting this choice and Grayson is beset by bullying and intolerance.
As Mr. Finnegan and Grayson’s co-actors surround her with support, Grayson develops assertiveness and begins to speak up for herself. Despite a particularly nasty bullying incident that becomes physical, Grayson fulfills her dream of standing on stage in a beautiful dress, and wows the audience. By the end of the novel, Grayson’s family members are more receptive to her identity and she is confident wearing the clothing she wants to wear.
In one classroom scene, Mr. Finnegan encourages students to fully research and participate in the class debate. “‘Something I believe in,’ he says, looking around the room, ‘is that it builds character to stand in someone else’s shoes. You know, to try to see things from another perspective’” (199). Fiction, too, can open a reader’s eyes to others’ experiences. This book will certainly nurture empathy and understanding in readers both young and old.
Gracefully Grayson is appropriate for older elementary schoolers and up, but the superb writing makes this highly readable for adults as well. I recommend this wonderful book for school and public libraries, and urge middle school Language Arts teachers to use this novel in the classroom.