Book Recommendation: ‘Melissa’ by Alex Gino

Recommended by DOMINIC FRANDRUP, Director, Door County Library

Written by Alex Gino, originally published with the title George in 2015 and republished with the title Melissa in 2022, this was the most banned book in America in 2020. Retitling a book after publication is a rare occurrence and was done by the author as a way to respect the main character’s personal journey. Searching for “Melissa and Alex Gino” in the library catalog will pull up results for both titles, though the contents of the books are identical.

Reasons given for the banning and challenges are LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community,” according to the American Library Association.

Melissa is aimed at 8- to 11-year-olds, and I enjoyed listening to the audio version on the library’s Libby app. It’s a heartfelt and engaging story about a fourth-grader who really wants to play the role of Charlotte in their school’s performance of Charlotte’s Web but can’t audition for the part because they are considered a boy, and only girls are able to try out for the part.

The awkwardness experienced by Melissa resonated with how I now vaguely recall my personal grade-school years. The bullies and drama at school, a well-intentioned mother and a best friend to make life more interesting. 

I became very emotionally invested with Melissa and their journey to be able to be the person they so desperately wanted to become, frequently dreading the chapter breaks with my heart in my throat because Melissa’s dreams could so easily be crushed.

This is easily the best banned book I’ve read in years, and I highly recommend it for parents and those who work with children who empathize and sympathize with their struggles.

Note: I think it bears remembering that all female roles in Shakespeare’s England were performed by men, as women were banned from performing in the theater professionally until 1661 because of societal gender roles.