More than anything, Melissa—a fourth grade student—wants to play Charlotte in the school’s rendition of Charlotte’s Web. She practises every spare moment, knows Charlotte’s lines, is spurred on by best friend Kelly, and can already imagine herself in the leggy, sparkly-black costume, evoking audience-tears by the end.
But when it comes time to audition for the part of Charlotte, she is laughed at or else ignored, and instead ushered towards the boys’ roles or stagehand work. They think Melissa is a boy. But Melissa—who is known to all as George—has always felt like a girl.
For the most part, award-winning middle-grade novel ‘George’ is sunshine across a page. Melissa’s third person narration is sincere, whole-hearted, and increasingly brave. There is a sweet simplicity to the story: scenes, like those of Melissa mixing up a glass of chocolate milk, tell us of childhood pleasures and innocence, and of the soft warmth of rituals and the security of home.
While her brother Scott is a bit antagonistic, teachers are well-meaning, and her mum is not entirely ‘on board’, Melissa’s best friend Kelly is a ten year old force of will. But Melissa—who fights in her own way—is the clear star on the page.
The story does not seek to be political. It simply shows us what is in Melissa’s heart—what makes her sing and what hurts her, but most of all: who she is inside. It’s this slice of childhood—the immediate honesty, of just ‘being’—that makes for a nostalgic story that is widely relatable.
Transgender readers should be forewarned that the book contains bullying related to gender. Perhaps, one day, stories like this will find other ways to crank the tension. Until then, books like ‘George’ shine bright.