Have you read George by Alex Gino?
If not, you should. It’s a heartwarming middle grade novel about a child who wants the world to recognize that she’s a girl. “George” is her given name, matching the gender her parents thought she was at birth, but that’s not who she is. She is Melissa:
They would ask her name, and she would tell them, My name is Melissa. Melissa was the name she called herself in the mirror when no one was watching and she could brush her flat reddish-brown hair to the front of her head, as if she had bangs. ~Chapter 1
However, if her name is Melissa, why is “George” the title of her story?
“j wallace skelton [who studies transgender representation in children’s literature] says calling the book George when the main character identifies as Melissa effectively reinforces a sense of the child as a boy, rather than the girl she knows herself to be.”
NPR includes Gino’s response to this criticism:
“If I were going to name [the book] now, I would not have done that” […] Because it is the assigned name, not her chosen name. When I started the book in 2003, the name of the book was Girl George — which was clearly an homage to Boy George. And then when Scholastic got it, one of the first things they did was, they cut off ‘Girl’ because they wanted to open up the audience. And I didn’t even notice, in all of the things that happened, that I have effectively dead-named my main character.” By dead-naming, Gino means using the name that a person does not want used. “So I do feel conflicted about that.”
So the publisher chose the title of the book “because they wanted to open up the audience”?
I can only assume the publisher felt the “audience” it needed to “open up” to was boys, who might be less likely to read a book with a “girly” name like Girl George or Melissa. But that stinks. There shouldn’t be “boy’s books” and “girl’s books.” Books are for everyone.
George is certainly cutting-edge for its portrayal of a transgender child in a book intended for a young audience. However, the story behind its title suggests that it might not be as big a step forward as it could have been.