Alex Gino is an American children's book writer. Gino's debut book, George, was the winner of the 2016 Stonewall Book Award as well as the 2016 Lambda Literary Award in the category of LGBT Children's/Young Adult.
Gino was born and raised in Staten Island, New York, but over the years has lived in such locations as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Brooklyn, New York; Astoria, Queens; Northampton, Massachusetts; and Oakland, California. As of April 2016, however, Gino lives in their RV as they drive around the country.
Gino identifies as genderqueer, making use of the singular they pronoun set and the honorific mx. in reference to themself.
Note: These questions about the main character in this book use her chosen name, Melissa, and her pronouns: she/her.
1. Why do you think some school districts have "banned" this book? If you were the parent of a Middle School child, would you have a problem with him or her reading it? Why/Why not?
2. Melissa and Rick used to be friends, but something changed when Jeff moved to town. Why do you think Rick changed? How could he try to be a better friend to Melissa?
3. Melissa wants to talk to her mom about how she feels and who she is, but she’s not sure how to. What are some things that her mom did that made it more difficult for Melissa to talk to her? What are some things she did that made it possible for Melissa to finally open up?
4. Do you think it’s fair that the boys and girls can’t try out for the same parts in the play? How does it make you feel when people say that some things (like pink or blue) are only for boys or girls?
5. Why doesn’t Melissa want one of the other roles Ms. Udell offers?
6. Melissa finally decides to stand up to Jeff after she hears him making fun of Charlotte. Why do you think Melissa cares so much about Charlotte?
7. Kelly says, “Ms. Udell is wrong. You should be Charlotte.” (p. 134) Do you agree with Kelly? Should Melissa have a chance to be Charlotte too?
8. When Melissa tells her family the truth about herself, her mother and brother have different reactions. How do they react? How does it make Melissa feel?
9. At the end of the performance of the play, Melissa thinks: “Charlotte was dead, but George was alive in a way she had never imagined.” What does this mean?
10. Principal Maldonado tells Melissa’s mom, “Well, you can’t control who your children are, but you can certainly support them, am I right?” (p. 160) Do you think Melissa’s mom understands what she means? Why does Principal Maldonado tell her this?
11. Melissa’s mom says, “I just don’t want you to make your road any harder than it has to be.” (p. 170) What are some ways Melissa’s life is already hard? Can you think of some ways her life might be made easier?
12. Why do you think Melissa’s mom gives her back her bag full of magazines?
13. The morning she and Kelly are going to the zoo, Melissa gets up early and goes out to swing. Talk about how you think the swinging makes her feel and why she has chosen to start her day that way.
14. Kelly doesn’t have to ask Melissa to pose for any pictures during their zoo day. Why do you think that is? What things are different for Melissa that day?
15. The tagline for George is: “Be Who You Are.” Discuss what this means to you. What are some ways that you can be who you are? What are some ways that you can support other people in being who they are?
16. Who in the book would you try to be like if a friend told you something they were nervous to share? Who would you try not to be like? What did those people do that was helpful or hurtful?
17. Why is Melissa’s name important to her? Why are names or nicknames important? What power does using someone’s name hold? How does the author use pronouns in this book for Melissa in narration and in dialogue, and how did that affect your understanding of her as a character?
FromAlex Gino’s Website:
1. How To Talk About GEORGE
[...] I am aware that many people are looking for ways to respectfully talk about this book and its author (that’s me!) Here are a few notes:
If you’re talking about the main character, go ahead and call her Melissa. She really likes it when you do. And if it sparks a conversation, great. Don’t worry about spoilers. Melissa uses that name for herself in the first chapter of the book. If you call her George from time to time, that’s understandable too. It is the title of the book. All the same, calling her Melissa is great practice for calling folks what they want to be called. What’s never OK is using the pronoun he for Melissa. Her pronouns is she. Always.
Sometimes, you might want to talk about the fact that Melissa is transgender and that she’s the only one who knows it. Here are some ways you can say this:
Melissa is a transgender girl who hasn’t shared this part of herself with anyone else.
Melissa is a girl whom the world sees as a boy named George.
Melissa is a girl who was assigned male at birth, and who hasn’t told anyone otherwise yet.
You’ll notice that I don’t say “Melissa (or George) identifies as.” I say “Melissa is … who is identified as…” This small difference has a huge effect, both on clarifying that you see Melissa for who she is, and in advancing language that recognizes and honors trans people. Melissa is who she is. The trouble is in how she is seen (and unseen) by the people around her. And please avoid language about how she’s “stuck” or that her body is “wrong”. These are tired tropes that rely on pity and “other” status.
2. As for me...
I am genderqueer and use the singular-they as a gender-neutral pronoun. You probably already use the singular-they when you talk about an undefined person: “when the guest arrives, tell them to put their things in the closet and to have themselves a seat.” It flows naturally (maybe even more so if you don’t think about it.)
It looks like this: Alex is writing some sample sentences. They don’t have anything specific to say, but they’re going to write a few things anyway so they can give a few examples of what the singular-they looks like in practice. They didn’t plan what to write, and they aren’t going to go on much longer. They weren’t impressed with their own imagination.
3. About The Title
The working title for this book was GIRL GEORGE. It was a (perhaps not so) clever homage to Boy George. When Scholastic bought the book, we changed the title. While I think the change was a smart one for increasing the range of GEORGE’s reach, I have now landed in a position where I have effectively deadnamed my main character. Deadnaming is using someone’s birth name when another name, often a name with different gender markers, has been offered.
Conveniently, Melissa is a fictional character, so she is not personally injured by my lapse in judgement. Further, there is a value in meeting folks head on with a name (George) and pronoun (she) that most people don’t expect together – that character in Nancy Drew and a few other references notwithstanding. Still, it’s important for me to acknowledge if I had the chance to do it over, I would have named my debut differently. (Regrets already. I know. What can ya do?)