Melissa (Formerly Published as George) by Alex Gino: Book Review

Melissa (Formerly Published as George) by Alex Gino Book Cover

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5 Stars

Title: Melissa (Formerly published as George)
Author: Alex Gino
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Social Issues
Audience: Middle Grade
Format: E-book

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My Synopsis:

Ten-year-old George loves the book, Charlotte’s Web, so when her class puts on a stage production, she is desperate to play the role of Charlotte. The only problem is that everyone sees George as a boy but George knows in her heart that she’s really a girl. The teacher refuses to cast a boy in the role and George is heartbroken. But George’s best friend Kelly has an idea….

My Review:

Oh my goodness. I inhaled this book in just a few hours and it left me with so much joy for George, I was almost in tears.

George is afraid to tell anyone that she’s really a girl. What will they think? But as she slowly starts to share her secret, she finds so much love and acceptance. The road isn’t perfectly smooth—that would be too unrealistic. People who know her need some time to accept the idea, which feels fair. But watching George become the person she knows she is? It’s a priceless gift to watch her transformation and journey to self-acceptance.

I loved so many of the other characters for their reactions but I feel that I have to mention two in particular. Kelly is amazing! We all need a cheerleader like Kelly in our lives. Like everyone else, she needs some time to readjust her thinking when George shares her secret. But once Kelly gets through the adjustment period, she is all in. She gives George the courage to be who she knows she really is. She encourages George in ways that mean so much to her. Kelly is a rock star and the very definition of true friendship.

I also need to mention George’s principal. She has a miniscule role in the book but it’s an important one. She has a rainbow flag in her office along with a sign that says, “Support safe spaces for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth.” When she starts to suspect that there might be something a bit different about George, she hugs her and makes a point of saying, “My door is always open.” She’s not asking questions, she’s not judging, she’s accepting and making sure that a young person in her charge has a place to feel safe and a shoulder to lean on. What a difference a figure like that can make in a young person’s life!

George herself is a sweet kid who is trying so hard to fit in but she just can’t. She cries in Charlotte’s Web. She tries to avoid the school bullies, even though she can’t help being on their radar. She loves her family and Kelly and she’s so afraid of losing them if they know she’s really a girl. The stress and the inner conflict are starting to get her down. My heart broke for her inward struggles. But by the end, George was shining and I was so proud of her for having the strength to be her authentic self and to share that self with those fortunate enough to know and love her just as she is.

I highly, highly recommend this. It’s a feel-good story and it’s an easy introduction to transgender topics for readers both young and old. It’s sure to spur questions and discussions, which can only lead to a better understanding and empathy. And don’t we need all the empathy we can get in this world?


Banned Books Week 2020 Poster

Melissa (formerly published as George) was the #1 most-challenged book in 2018 and 2019 according to the American Library Association. The reasons for the challenges are, “for LGBTQIA+ content and a transgender character; because schools and libraries should not ‘put books in a child’s hand that require discussion’; for sexual references; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint and ‘traditional family structure.’” So books that require discussion shouldn’t be put in a child’s hands? Heck, Charlotte’s Web requires discussion! That one scene is pretty devastating to a child! That’s a ridiculous assertion. And what does “traditional family structure” look like in 2020? How about what it should look like? It should look like unconditional love and acceptance and if a book like this can help even one child either accept him- or herself or someone else as they are, it should be on shelves. Again, empathy and love are what we need so much in this world and George’s story fosters both feelings. If you as a parent are uncomfortable with a book like this, the answer is to monitor your own child’s choices; the book description is very upfront about the content. Whatever you do, don’t try to remove it from an entire community or library and thus police another child’s choices. That is way overstepping your boundaries and just not cool.

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If you liked Melissa (Formerly published as George), you might also like my reviews of these banned/challenged middle grade/children’s books:


Buy Melissa (formerly published as George) from Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, NC.

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  1. This sounds like a book I would enjoy reading. It brings to mind a great novel I read by Laurie Frankel called “This Is How It Always Is.” Highly recommend, if you haven’t already read it! Reviewed here on my blog.

    1. I haven’t even heard of This Is How It Always Is. I’ll look for it. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Great review! I agree, there are a lot of books given to kids to read that have difficult topics and need discussion about the books. (I mean really — Bridge to Terabithia? The Red Pony? Where the Red Fern Grows?) If we’re lucky, there is discussion in class and not just “read the book and write a report.” Ugh. Looking back at some of the books we were given in class, I’m not surprised that school turned some kids off of reading.

    Sorry, a bit of a rant there. It just annoys me when books with important themes are banned because some adults can’t handle change.

    1. I want to cry every time I even think about Where the Red Fern Grows and I’ve always hated crying! You can imagine how I felt when we had to read the book and watch the movie in class. Luckily I was in my twenties before I read Bridge to Terabithia so at least I didn’t have to worry about crying in front of my classmates. Those depressing books had to be a turnoff for some kids. But they are great starting points for important discussions, as you said.

      1. I think I read Bridget to Terabithia for a book report in school, so I at least got to do my crying over that book in the privacy of my own home. But yeah, I did a lot of crying over books, too. I’m just glad I was a reader before all of the schoolwork happened, so that I knew I could enjoy books even if I didn’t always enjoy the assignments.

        1. Now that you mention it, I’m glad I loved books before school too. I can probably count on one hand the number of books that I had to read for school that I actually liked, especially once I got to high school. Elementary school was generally good but middle school was questionable. I’ve never been a rebel but I think that was my small form of rebellion–disliking the books I was told I was supposed to like. And that’s a shame because I’ve re-read some of them since then and enjoyed them.

          1. A lot of the books I read for school I think also suffered for the dissection we were made to do of them. I think some of the assigned reading would have been a lot more enjoyable if we were just reading, rather than trying to interpret it.

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