A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Parents and teachers can use this book to talk about a wide variety of topics, including what it means to be transgender and how to stand up for someone being bullied. The author is genderqueer and uses the gender-neutral pronoun "they" rather than "he" or "she"; parents may need to explain this.
Be true to yourself. Be tolerant of others, even if they're different in a way that's hard for you to understand.
Positive Role Models
Melissa finds many supportive advocates, but her greatest ally is her best friend, Kelly, who even shares her starring role and lends her clothes so that she can spend the day as Melissa. Melissa learns to increasingly be herself and to tell others about her secret. Her older brother is supportive and accepting.
Main character is a transgender girl in fourth grade. She experiences bullying at school but is supported by her friend and her brother and comes out to her mom.
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Violence & Scariness
Some kids taunt Melissa. She gets punched by a bullying student and throws up.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Some people assume Melissa is a gay boy; she says she doesn't "know who she liked, really, boys or girls." Book deals with gender identity, but no sexual activity. Older brother Scott mentions looking at porn and "dirty" magazines as something boys do. Young readers who don't know what word "porn" means may be inclined to look it up. Reference to Melissa's private parts during a bath: "She immersed her body in the warm water and tried not to think about what was between her legs, but there it was, bobbing in front of her." Scott asks, in a kid-like way, if Melissa wants gender reassignment surgery: "So, like, do you want to" -- he made a gesture with two fingers like a pair of scissors -- "go all the way?" Melissa squeezed her legs together. "Maybe someday," she said.
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Some bullying kids call Melissa a "freak."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Melissa is a novel about a transgender fourth grader called George who increasingly learns to be herself and to tell others about her secret. Along the way, she finds many supportive advocates, but her greatest ally is her best friend, Kelly. Some kids taunt Melissa, and she's called a freak and gets punched by a bullying student. Some people, such as Melissa's older brother Scott, assume that Melissa is a gay boy, but she says she doesn't "know who she liked, really, boys or girls." The book was formerly titled George, but in 2021, at the author's request, it was retitled and republished as Melissa, to respect the main character's identity. The novel deals with gender identity, but there's no sexual activity. Scott mentions looking at porn and "dirty" magazines as something boys do. Young readers who don't know what the word "porn" means may be inclined to look it up. Parents and teachers can use this book to talk about a wide variety of topics, including what it means to be transgender and to how to stand up for someone being bullied. Editor's note: In the story, Melissa's older brother shows her how to clear the browsing history after using their mom's computer. Melissa then does this after searching the internet for transgender information. In the Common Sense K–12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum we advise families and educators to empower kids to think critically about the websites they visit. However, families may choose to review their kids' browsing history to make sure they're making safe choices online.
Is It Any Good?
Alex Gino's simply and tenderly written story will help kids -- and parents -- understand what it feels like to be transgender. Melissa hates the body she was born with, gets teased at school, and worries her mother won't accept her if she learns her big secret. Readers will quickly understand that the fourth grader called George is really a girl and cheer her growing ability to live as herself.
There's not a lot of new territory covered here, but there are some simple and lovely moments, such as when Melissa's older brother says, "Weird. But it makes sense," when he hears her secret, or when her supportive friend Kelly helps her pick an outfit so that she can spend a day as Melissa.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.