Rick by Alex Gino
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
6th grade is full of changes for Rick. His beloved older sister is off to college, Rick starts visiting his Grandpa Ray for some one-on-one time, and he’s coming to terms with how he feels about his best friend, Jeff, who he’s realizing is kind of a jerk. At first, Rick judges Jeff on past behavior and on comparing him to others, but eventually realizes that he needs to look at Jeff’s behavior on its own.
6th grade also introduces Rick to the Rainbow Spectrum, an after-school group of LGBTQIAP+ kids and allies, including Melissa, the heroine of Gino’s novel George. (The cover is also similar to George’s, so I knew at a glance this would be a similar, if not companion, book to that one, and was pleased to see Melissa here.) Jeff is pretty vocal about his disdain for the Rainbow Spectrum, and at first Rick doesn’t say anything, even while standing as lookout for Jeff to deface the group’s posters. But eventually he comes into his own, with some subtle peer pressure from another kid in the Rainbow Spectrum and some good advice from Grandpa Ray. Rick also, importantly, learns about asexuality and is sure that he is ace too, even while others tell him he’s too young to know. Grandpa Ray and the Rainbow Spectrum’s advisor, Mr. Sydney, reinforce that the Q means both queer and questioning, especially in kids that age. Rick asks, “what if it changes and I like girls at some point? Or boys?” and Grandpa Ray responds, “Then it changes and you like girls at some point. Or boys. Or both. Or other people too” (p144-145).
Grandpa Ray has his own gender identity stuff going on, which I’ll let you discover on your own. I loved his and Rick’s relationship and Rick’s overall character development. I really liked that Rick didn’t just think (or be told) that Jeff is a jerk and dump him. Rather, we get to see him be an accomplice to bullying / hate crime and struggle with not speaking up, and then get the courage to actually speak up. I think that could be really powerful for kids to see their own struggles modeled, even if they don’t recognize them at first, and take the next step to speaking up.
Stories about ace characters are so few and far between and I’m so glad this one exists! I also loved that even Rick’s beloved older sister isn’t perfect and dismisses his sexuality questioning based on his age. I too would be tempted to tell a 6th grader, especially a boy, that they might just be a late bloomer, but after reading this story I will be more careful about validating them. As Grandpa Ray says, you know yourself best!