Melissa has a secret. Though looking at her on the outside, everyone assumes she’s George, a fourth grade boy, she knows that she is a girl. When she decides it’s time to talk to her family and best friend about her identity, she realizes the fourth grade play will be the perfect opportunity. She will play Charlotte in the production of Charlotte’s Web, and everyone will finally see her for who she really is. Problems arise when Melissa’s teacher refuses to let her audition for the part—because she sees Melissa as a boy. Not to be deterred, Melissa and her best friend Kelly come up with a plan that will give Melissa the voice she needs to be her true self once and for all.
For me, reading this book is part of a learning experience. I don’t have any openly transgender friends or family members, so understanding what it’s like to walk through this process whether it’s putting all the pieces together personally or beginning to communicate about it to friends and family, is something I’ve never been a part of.
I wasn’t a very self-aware child, as I think a lot of children are not. One of the things that really struck me about this book was how, from the very first moment of the story, Melissa’s identity wasn’t a question. She wasn’t gathering and analyzing her feelings to try to figure out what they were or what they meant. She’d already processed and concluded: the problem was that she was a girl everyone saw as a boy.
I think I expected or wanted to see more of what her process looked like for arriving at that realization, but this story isn’t really about how she got there– it’s more about her right to her identity and how to take the steps to be known as she truly is.
I think a story like this is important for a lot of reasons. First, obviously, young readers sharing the experience that the main character in this book has deserve to see themselves on the page as the hero of a story. They deserve the model of a supportive parent who doesn’t have all the answers, but loves her child no matter what, and is determined to be on her side, even if the journey is different than she might have expected.
Another reason is that many people, myself included, don’t know what this experience is like for someone. A story like this gives an opportunity to see what life looks like from inside this experience. To stand in a young transgender girl’s shoes for a bit.
I feel like GEORGE should inspire our empathy. It should inspire us to listen. To withhold judgment and hear what someone we love is saying to us. To remember the courage it takes to own who we are, and to speak up when someone else has it wrong, especially when it’s the people we love most.
One of the great things about this story is that it allows us to open a dialogue with our kids. How do we treat someone who is transgender? GEORGE invites readers into the discussion about how to talk to or about someone who is transgender. What does it look like to be a supportive friend? What does it look like to be a supportive teacher or administrator? A supportive parent?
I loved the writing in this book and the way the author used CHARLOTTE’S WEB in the novel. The way Melissa’s connection to Charlotte became such a powerful motivator was really cool. The character relationships felt very organic and really moved me. Honestly? I cried when the principal told Melissa that her door was always open. That message and that gentle support is something we all need as we wrestle with hard things. To have a trusted adult look into your face and say, in effect, “I see you, and it’s okay.” Wow. I tear up even now writing about it.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
This isn’t really sexual content in a romantic sense, but I wanted to specify some notes for clarity.
Melissa hides in the bathroom with magazines meant for preteen girls. Her brother comments that she must be in there with a dirty magazine. She’s grossed out by the idea.
At one point, Melissa borrows clothes from a friend and exchanges her boy clothes for panties, a skirt and a pretty tank top. Melissa visits public bathrooms, but hates using the boys’ bathroom at school. The day she wears her friend’s clothes, she uses the girls’ bathroom and feels much more comfortable.
As Melissa wrestles to help her family understand who she is, at one point her brother asks if she’s gay. Melissa responds that no, she isn’t gay, and that being transgender is a completely different thing.
Note: Updated February 2, 2022.