By Alexa Dumas
“She looked in the mirror and gasped. Melissa gasped back at her. For a long time, she stood there, just blinking. George smiled, and Melissa smiled too.”
Six large letters in the colors of the rainbow sit on the cover of Alex Gino’s children’s novel, “George.” There is nothing else on the white cover, besides Gino’s name and the Scholastic Inc. logo.
Despite what the title suggests, the main character is a 10-year-old transgender girl named Melissa.
The novel follows Melissa as she searches for her true identity, struggles to find her voice and faces bullies at school.
Melissa wants to be seen as herself, but she struggles to find the confidence to come out to her friends and family, as they may not understand her identity.
Since Melissa is not out at school, words like “man” and “boy” are used to describe her, which clearly pains Melissa to hear.
Not only does Melissa struggle with her identity, but she also struggles at school. It is revealed that Melissa’s class will be putting on a stage production of E.B. White’s children’s novel, “Charlotte’s Web.”
As this is announced, Melissa yearns to play the role of Charlotte, but is turned down by her teacher. After feeling rejected, Melissa and her best friend Kelly craft a plan to make Melissa “R-A-D-I-A-N-T,” a reference to “Charolette’s Web.”
Published in 2015, the title Gino originally chose for their novel was “Girl George,” a play on Boy George, the androgynous lead singer of the 80s new wave band Culture Club. David Levithan, Gino’s editor and young adult fiction author, stated that the child audience wouldn’t get the reference and a one-word title may remove any ambiguities for the novel, according to Publishers Weekly.
As “George” was published and time moved on, Gino released a statement in fall 2021 that their novel will officially don the title “Melissa,” the true name of the novel’s protagonist.
If readers have a novel that still contains the title of “George,” readers are encouraged to participate in #SharpieActivism by crossing out the old title and adding “Melissa” on the cover with a black felt-tipped marker or printing out the new title and pasting it to their original book.
Since the spring of 2022, Scholastic Inc. has thus published Gino’s novel by its new title.
Not only is the title important for the novel as a whole, but the novel itself includes valuable information for the child reader pertaining to the experiences of transgender youth.
As Melissa comes out to her best friend Kelly, she explains how transgender people have struggled for being who they are, while also explaining what transitioning can look like. Melissa is knowledgeable about her own experience and the experiences of other transgender people, even though she is in fourth grade.
Although “Melissa” is an empowering tale, administrators, library patrons and parents have tried to ban or challenge this novel in schools and libraries across the country. From 2018 to 2021, “Melissa” was the number one banned book on the American Library Association’s list, while having challenges from 2016 to 2022.
A simple and heartwarming novel about a child’s journey of discovering her gender identity has been under fire for depicting a transgender child, including sexual content, depicting LGBT themes, while being deemed unsuitable for the intended age group.
The censorship of “Melissa” sends a message to transgender youth that their experiences are not valid. This shouldn’t be the case.
For the child reader, this information provides a window into the lives of transgender youth.
Young readers can learn about gender identity and the life experiences of others, all while establishing a sense of empathy toward Melissa, as she finds her voice and becomes an advocate for herself and others.