So I did some research after finishing this book: this book feels very authentic, but would it be offensive to those who are trans? It might be. It probably is to some: I think anything is to some. But if a majority of people are saying negative things, if they have well thought out arguments, then something might be offensive. I haven't walked in the same shoes a trans girl - or boy - has, and so I've come to the point where I look for their criticisms first.
I didn't find anything. I did find out that Alex Gino identifies as genderqueer, however, and said that they identify as genderqueer. (I was unsure of pronoun usage, so I looked it up. That link goes to their biography on their site, explaining that Alex prefers the singular 'they' as a pronoun.) They also refer to this as Melissa's story, despite the title of 'George.'
It's short, it's cute, and despite the stress that Melissa feels throughout this story, she carries herself with a grace and quiet dignity that made me feel quiet and calm myself. Stressed out about jobs, or losing a wallet? Then listening to George was my solution. It was a balm. It was beautiful and shining and felt so, so real. It felt authentic to someone who had no idea how authentic it was, and it touched me deeply. It was clean - there's no way of getting around some issues, like hormones and bodies and how Melissa's is different from other girls - but there's nothing awful. Melissa's brother assumes that she masterbates to porn, instead of realizing that the girly magazines are because Melissa relates to the girls on the page, but that's as dirty as it gets. There's one specific mention of Melissa's genitals, and I can see some parents being upset by this, but really? Kids at this age realize they have private parts. (And look, it bothered me in a squirmy way, because I don't like talking about those places, or reading about them too much, but, y'know, that's me. That's my issue.) I wouldn't hesitate to recommend, or give this, to a child, especially those in the age range that this is intended for. (At Barnes and Noble, it's in the young adult so seven to twelve years old. I wouldn't hesitate on the younger range of that scale.)
The focus is on Melissa: her struggle to understand herself, and her struggle to let other people know she's a girl, not the boy they see. While some people are surprisingly accepting at first glance, and some take time to come around - which I didn't expect - this is the happiest ending I could see, and I'm so glad it ended up here. I was actually worried it might not end up this well at one point. Melissa is compelling: kind, thoughtful, precocious, and she is a compelling character because of how quiet and thoughtful she is. I cared for her, and I wanted things to end well for her.
This is a carefully constructed story, using the class play and the story of Charlotte's web as a counterpoint to Melissa's story. Which is rather brilliant. The school is putting on Charlotte's Web on as a play and Charlotte is very much like Melissa: kind and thoughtful. I'd even argue that many of the themes - don't give up, and love people for who they are and be yourself - are similar, enough so that this is really a clever choice of novel to harken back to. (It also helps that those who haven't read Charlotte's Web and have read George can read Charlotte's Web The age range the two books were intended for are the same, or again, similar enough.)
As for the narrator, she was perfection. She gave all the characters distinct voices, and she was emotive, in an authentic way. And while I know it's far less important, the opening bits of music - both the same - were cute enough to endear me to the book before it had started, and reminded me of why I loved this after it had ended.
Alex Gino is a must-read author for me based on this. I only hope we get more of their lovely writing based on this, their debut novel.