My daughter, who is a senior in college, called me during Banned Books Week a few weeks ago and insisted that I buy a novel entitled Melissa for her 12-year-old brother. It was unusual of her to be so forcefully recommending a book for her brother, and particularly one with a feminine title. My curiosity was piqued further when she told me they’d been discussing the book in her Psych class.
After reading the description of Melissa, I purchased it immediately. Not only for my 12-year-old son, but also for myself to read. And, honestly, it felt good to be supporting Banned Books Week. Censorship is something I’ve never understood. It’s fine to disagree, or to dislike a book, but to attempt to ban ideas from other people makes absolutely no sense to me. We can all benefit from learning about other people’s lives and perspectives. Besides, trying to ban anything in the age of the Internet seems futile and ridiculous.
Meanwhile, this particular banned book is about a 10-year-old who knows herself as Melissa, while the rest of her world knows her as George. The primary conflict of the story involves the school play, Charlotte’s Web. Melissa wants to audition for the part of Charlotte, but the teacher won’t let her because she’s a boy. I had felt pretty confident I could learn something from this story, and I did.
Melissa’s character is portrayed with the honesty and innocence of its 10-year-old narrator. The adults and other children in the story are also rendered with sensitivity, and I found myself wanting to understand their feelings without judging their actions.
Ultimately, aside from Melissa (who was brave enough to stay true to herself no matter the consequences), another hero in the story was Melissa’s best friend Kelly. Everyone needs a friend who can see them for who they are and support them no matter what. Kelly rises to the challenge in this book in a way that elevates Melissa and helps her blossom.
I don’t want to give away anything more about the story, but I also enjoyed reading the interview with author Alex Gino in the back of the book. Gino’s motivations for writing the book are interesting to read, and a further resource is recommended for young people struggling with identity issues.
We all need allies, as Julia highlighted in her post last week. Certainly, kids like Melissa need them more than most. We can all learn from Melissa to stay true to ourselves, and from friends like Kelly what it means to really be there for someone in need of support, and I appreciate that my daughter introduced us to this book.