Gracefully Grayson, which we reviewed earlier this month, is a middle-grade book about a transgender girl and it’s Ami Polonsky’s debut novel. We had the pleasure of interviewing Ami about her amazing book and her writing process.
Q: Gracefully Grayson was just released on November 4th! What is it like to have your book out in the world?
A: Thanks so much for interviewing me! It’s really exciting that GRACEFULLY GRAYSON is out in the world. I waited twenty-five months for pub day! On one hand, I love that people all over can read and talk about Grayson’s story and I feel so honored that GRACEFULLY GRAYSON has been well received. On the other hand, my life feels very much the same as it did before November 4th. I still spend a lot of time doing laundry, picking up after my kids and pacing around the house trying to come up with new writing ideas. Unfortunately, most writers live pretty unglamorous lives!
Q: Where did the idea for Gracefully Grayson come from?
A: When my two children were very young, I noticed that my son wasn’t drawn exclusively to “boy toys” and my daughter wasn’t drawn exclusively to “girl toys.” I began to think a lot about the boxes that society tries to place boys and girls into and it made me really angry. I didn’t want the external world dictating my kids’ interests, preferences and desires. I felt like the pink aisles and blue aisles were limiting my children’s experiences as human beings—something that was in direct opposition to what I wanted for them; I wanted their worlds to be wide open. I thought about the challenges a child would face if they really and truly didn’t fit into the “pink box” or the “blue box.” It was a few years later that the idea for Grayson came to me but I know the seed was planted when I was feeling this frustration.
Q: What would you say was your favorite thing about writing Gracefully Grayson?
A: Through writing GRACEFULLY GRAYSON, I really came to appreciate the power of the subconscious mind. Often, as I wrote, ideas would pop into my brain. I’d have no idea where they came from but they’d make perfect sense. My favorite thing about writing GRACEFULLY GRAYSON was learning how expansive the subconscious is and learning how to give my (usually overactive) mind the space and permission to be quiet and create.
Q: Grayson, the protagonist of your book, is a young trans girl. Can you share what your research process was like, to portray that accurately?
A: I did extensive research only after writing my first draft. I knew a decent amount about what it means to be transgender prior to writing draft one just from paying attention to the news and the world around me. I felt that, emotionally speaking, I could put myself into the shoes of a child that appeared to be someone she wasn’t. After all, haven’t we all felt at some point like our inner selves and our external selves are out of alignment? Haven’t we all felt like the world can’t see us for who we truly are? I was worried that if I did extensive research before writing a draft, someone else’s voice could seep into Grayson’s, or someone else’s story could get too tied up into hers. After I had a draft that solidly portrayed Grayson as a unique individual with a strong voice and strong emotions, I started to read and research more extensively. Then I was able to layer more detail into her experience.
Q: It’s clear that Grayson would prefer “she/her/hers” pronouns, but there’s no point in the book when it is really talked about. Why did you decide to go with that route?
A: You’re right—Grayson should be referred to as “she.” Grayson flinches when Uncle Evan refers to her as “son.” She says she’d never try out for the boy’s choir, and she wishes she could use the girls’ bathroom. There was never a conversation in the book about pronouns because, by the end of the book, Grayson is just getting up the courage to show the world who she really is. Plot-wise, a conversation about pronouns would come after that.
Q: I don’t want to say anything spoilery in case our readers haven’t read the book, but why did you decide to end the book in that particular way? (AHH!!!)
A: This is a question I’ve gotten a lot. The end of the book isn’t meant to be ambiguous. I love endings that are also beginnings. Readers have wanted to know how Grayson’s community will react to her now that she’s taking steps to align her external appearance to her inner self. The beauty of reading is that you—the reader—get to fill in the missing pieces based on your own knowledge and what you’ve learned about the characters. In response to the many questions I’ve gotten about how Aunt Sally, Uncle Evan, Jack, Brett, Paige, etc. will react is…they’ll each react the way you’d expect them to react!
Q: Do you think you’d ever write another book about Grayson? (YES PLEASE? WE NEED A SERIES ABOUT GRAYSON GROWING UP) If not, how do you see Grayson and family in the future?
A: Aw, thanks for wanting more! It never crossed my mind to make Grayson’s story a series and I really do believe that GRACEFULLY GRAYSON is a stand-alone novel. That said, I’d never definitively say no…but I will say that it’s unlikely. Again, I don’t want to do the reader’s job here by saying how I see Grayson in the future. I will say that, as the author, I gave Grayson all the tools she needs to live a life true to who she is and that in the future Grayson will be better than okay.
Q: What has the reaction from young readers been like?
A: It has been really heartwarming to get notes from young transgender readers telling me I’ve “gotten it right,” and that they’re grateful to see themselves reflected in a character in a book. I’ve also loved hearing from cisgender readers who are rooting for Grayson. I wrote this book for everyone—trans kids and their allies, and those who don’t yet understand.
Q: Do you have any other books coming out in the future? Do you think you’ll write about more queer characters?
A: The next book I’m working on is one I’m really excited about. It tells the intertwining stories of two girls who are on parallel journeys. Both girls are cisgender and gender identity isn’t a theme in the book. I don’t have any specific plans beyond that book right now, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if I wrote another queer character in the future.
Q: Where would you like to see queer MG/YA go?
A: MG and YA literature needs to reflect the fact that gender identification and sexual orientation can be complex and varied and this complexity and variation is normal and beautiful and should be embraced. In this sense, queer characters should show up in MG/YA literature in the same ways that any other characters show up—as main characters, as supporting characters, as likable characters, as unlikable characters, as characters who have everything figured out and as characters who are struggling. While we still have a ways to go, I think we’re moving in the right direction.
Thank you so much Miss Polonsky for answering our questions and giving us such a great story!