Lisa Graff’s first novel, The Thing About Georgie, is a real treat. She offers an unusual premise, an engaging and true central character, a little humour and lots of heart.
Georgie Bishop is a dwarf (there’s something about that word that doesn’t feel politically correct to me… but Graff uses it, and I expect she would know). He’s in grade 4, and there is a lot that is normal about his life – he has great parents, a best friend, and stuff that keeps him busy outside of school. And then there are all of the things about Georgie that aren’t “normal.” He can’t reach the light switch. He can’t hold a pencil the way other people can. He can’t play a musical instrument. Kids tease him because of his physical differences. At the moment, there are a few bigger things on Georgie’s mind:
1) The fact that his mom and dad are expecting a baby (Baby Godzilla as Georgie thinks of her), who will probably be a whole lot taller than Georgie will ever be.
2) The fact that his best friend Andy seems to want to spend more and more time hanging out with regular-sized kids.
3) The fact that Jeanie (the Meanie) is showing a little too much interest in Georgie for his liking.
One of the strengths of Graff’s story is that she manages to portray what is ordinary and extraordinary about Georgie’s life all at once. Part of the reason he is so endearing to readers is that he comes across in so many ways just like a typical ten year old kid, and then Graff brings his differences to the fore in a subtle, affecting way.
One of the larger themes of the book is the lesson that it is important for everyone not to define themselves narrowly. Through Georgie, Graff explores how easy it is to judge and confine someone’s identity according to their most obvious and irrefutable qualities. And it isn’t just onlookers who are the guilty ones. Oftentimes, we’re the ones who do the most to limit ourselves.
I know that there is a lot to get kids talking in this book. It reminded me of Andrew Clements’ work, because of the extraordinary/everyday quality of the story, and the real life nature of the characters and their problems.
I think this one is definitely Cybils material. What say you?
The Thing About Georgie is published by Harper Collins.