Monday 4 July 2022

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Review: Rick by Alex Gino

Rick by Alex Gino on a white sheet, on a diagonal, top left to bottom right. It's lying partially on a rainbow flag in the top left corner of the photo, and a small rainbow pin is on the middle right of the book.

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Rick by Alex Gino

Published: 7th May 2020 | Publisher: Scholastic | Source: Bought
Alex Gino’s Website

Rick's never questioned much. He's gone along with his best friend Jeff even when Jeff's acted like a bully and a jerk. He's let his father joke with him about which hot girls he might want to date even though that kind of talk always makes him uncomfortable. And he hasn't given his own identity much thought, because everyone else around him seemed to have figured it out.

But now Rick's gotten to middle school, and new doors are opening. One of them leads to the school's Rainbow Spectrum club, where kids of many genders and identities congregate, including Melissa, the girl who sits in front of Rick in class and seems to have her life together. Rick wants his own life to be that . . . understood. Even if it means breaking some old friendships and making some new ones.

As they did in their groundbreaking novel Melissa, in Rick, award-winning author Alex Gino explores what it means to search for your own place in the world . . . and all the steps you and the people around you need to take in order to get where you need to be.
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I've wanted to read Rick by Alex Gino since I discovered it's about a young boy questioning his sexuality, and thinking he might be asexual and aromantic, and it didn't take long for me to pick it. And it's such a sweet story! But I do wish there was more to it.

Rick is just starting middle school, and is looking forward to seeing what it's like. His best friend Jeff is going to the same school, but they're not in any of the same classes, giving Rick a chance to meet new people. But everyone in his family is suddenly talking about how he will probably start notice girls - or boys - and Jeff talks about "hotties" all the time, but Rick isn't; he's confused about not feeling what others expect him to. So when he discovers the Rainbow Spectrum, his school's LGBTQ+ group, and that it's also for people who have questions, he goes along. But he doesn't want Jeff to know. Jeff mocks the Rainbow Spectrum, and thinks being gay is gross. He's quite mean to a lot of people, actually. Rick struggles to understand himself, his complex feelings about his friendship with Jeff, and the surprising bond he's found with his Grandpa Ray, who accepts him as he is.

I loved the Rainbow Spectrum and the conversations that were had there. While it's through the group that Rick learns about asexuality and aromanticism, other identities are discussed, too. At the start of the first meeting, Mr Sydney, who is new to supervising the group, asks everyone to introduce themselves along with their pronouns. This brings up conversations about individuals gender identity, different pronouns, and what pronouns there are. There's Green, who is non-binary, and there's a whole conversation about Green's pronouns; Green would rather not use pronouns, and someone suggests they/them, which leads to a conversation about the singular they and English language, as Mr Sydney is an English teacher. What's wonderful is that people make mistakes in this group - they misunderstand or they say the wrong thing, including Mr Sydney, but it is a supportive group, where people are corrected and learn from each other. I loved it at the second meeting that Mr Sydney apologised for a mistake he made previously around the singular they, and also about how he's learnt about pronouns you use rather than pronouns you prefer - Green doesn't use pronouns. This is just one example of the conversations had in the group, and it's just so gorgeous! There's also discussion of the different terms for the LGBTQ+ community, and that people have different preferences. It's just a really safe place that welcomes open discussion and conversation, where you can share your thoughts, opinions, and questions, and learn together. Gino uses the group to ask questions the reader might have, and have them discussed on the page to help the characters - and the reader - understand. It's quite a good introduction to various identities, to not having to know everything about yourself right now, that it's ok to have questions and to not understand, that you will probably make mistakes, but as long as you learn from them, apologise, and try to do better, that's what counts. It's not all just conversations though, there's fundraising! The group decides to fundraise to buy more queer books for the library by putting on a talent show, and it's just so cool.

I adored the relationship Rick had with Grandpa Ray. It's a family tradition that every weekend, Grandpa Ray would be visited by a one on Rick's siblings; it was his older brother until he went to college, when it moved to his older sister. Now his sister's going to college, it's Rick's turn. He isn't really looking forward to it; Grandpa Ray is very quiet at gatherings, ad he just doesn't know what they would talk about. But it turns out that Grandpa Ray is better one-to-one, and they both have a shared interest in the TV show Rogue Space, and they spend the weekends watching old episodes together. Grandpa Ray becomes this wise mentor to Rick, and they have real, proper conversations. Rick is able to talk to his grandpa about what's happening at school, and the questions he has about himself, and Grandpa Ray is really supportive and accepting. And he has a secret of his own that he shares with Rick, and it's just wonderful! I loved them going off to a convention together, it was just adorable. But Grandpa Ray also helps Rick to realise that his friend Jeff really isn't a good person.

Or rather, Rick is starting to realise this himself, but Grandpa Ray makes him face it. Because Jeff is awful. He's a bully and he's homophobic, and he gets other people in trouble for his own entertainment. Rick has to grapple with his feelings over how Jeff treats people, against how good a friend he's been to Rick. Does making Rick laugh and being willing to start video games from the start so Rick and join in outweigh what Jeff's doing to others? Rick really struggles with it, but it's great to see him come to the right decision and confront his best friend.

Rick is a very short, quick read. It's only 213 pages long, but even shorter than you'd expect, because there is a lot of space between lines of text. While it's a really sweet story, I do wish it was more substantial. While I loved everything about it, I also feel it was almost surface-level, and didn't really dig quite as deep as it could. It just felt too short, too quick.

But Rick really is a great story about questioning and figuring things out, on discussing different sexual orientations and genders, and understanding them. It's definitely an important addition to a child's personal LGBTQ+ library, but I did want more from it.

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