Review: Melissa by Alex Gino

Melissa by Alex Gino

Melissa (previously published as George)
Alex Gino
Scholastic Press
Published August 25, 2015

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Melissa


When people look at Melissa, they think they see a boy named George. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

Melissa thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be CHARLOTTE’S WEB. Melissa really, really, really wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part… because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, Melissa comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

Melissa on Goodreads

My Review

One of the things that 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 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 about her right to her identity and to be known as she truly is.

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.

MELISSA 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? MELISSA 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.

Melissa on Bookshop

Content Notes

Melissa is a fourth grade student who struggles to tell her family that she is a transgender girl. She’s certain about her identity, but the news comes as a shock to some around her.

Profanity/Crude Language Content

Romance/Sexual 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.

Spiritual Content

Violent Content

Drug Content

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Updated December 16, 2022 to reflect the current title of the book.

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About Kasey

Reads things. Writes things. Fluent in sarcasm. Willful optimist. Cat companion, chocolate connoisseur, coffee drinker. There are some who call me Mom.

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