Alex Gino’s acclaimed trans middle grade novel George (Scholastic Press, 2015) is receiving an update in the form of a new name and a brand-new cover.
In 2003, nonbinary author Gino, whose pronouns are they and them, began writing a story about a trans girl, the eponymous main character pre-transition, navigating gender identity and presentation when she is denied the chance to audition for the role of Charlotte in her school’s production of Charlotte's Web due to erroneously being labeled a boy. Gino’s original intent was to print a few copies for distribution to trans youth via their local PFLAG organizations. “It was a little pet project,” Gino told PW. “I called it Girl George.”
To Gino’s surprise, they eventually acquired an agent for the project and ultimately sold it to Scholastic, in 2014. The book, which Gino had lightheartedly dubbed “Girl George” as an allusion to the androgynous, gay 1980s musician Boy George, received its first name change at the hands of Scholastic’s marketing team. The word “Girl” was dropped, to Gino’s displeasure. “The way I remember it, my first response was ‘Excuse me, what are you doing with the word ‘girl’?” The critique, Gino recalled. was that adult gatekeepers would prevent boys from reading the book of “girl” were included in the title. To which Gino, an ardent feminist, replied, “Oh, sneaky feminism. My favorite!”
David Levithan, who acquired and edited George, offered an explanation for the change. “I know Boy George, but I didn’t think kids would get that.” Furthermore, Levithan expressed a preference for the intriguing ambiguity of the one-word title, an opinion shared by others.
Despite Gino’s initial misgivings about the deletion, Gino was ultimately convinced. Excited by the prospect of being published by Scholastic, Gino noted being unconscious of the agency they had as the author of the work. “I didn’t really think I had such control of the title until it was already into production.”
However, shortly before publication, Gino began to question the title selected for their debut middle grade work. Gino realized. “That’s not the name I want everyone calling her [the titular character] if she were real.” Melissa is the name the character chose for herself at the end of her journey. They hadn’t intended to imply that a trans person should be called by their former name when they’ve chosen another one. But by then, there wasn’t much to be done.
Published in 2015, George went on to win numerous awards and to be translated into several languages around the world. However, Gino’s doubts persisted, which they expressed to Levithan. “The more we thought about it, the more we talked about it over the years,” Levithan said, “the more it seemed that Melissa was the correct title.”
Six years later, amid changing cultural attitudes around queerness and trans acceptance, Gino reached a tipping point. Although they’ve spoken openly about wishing they had been more assertive in selecting a different title, a topic discussed in the q&a portion of the book’s paperback edition, in the summer of 2021, Gino took action. “I come from trans, I come from queer, I come from do-it-yourself. I come from ‘the system’s not working so you just fix stuff.’ Let’s just start fixing it, let’s just start changing it.” Gino took a Sharpie to a physical copy of George, thus renaming it Melissa’s Story, as they came to believe it should be. Next, they took to social media, encouraging others to make similar corrections to their own copies—and so the #SharpieActivism campaign was born.
Following the positive response from readers to Gino’s social media post, Levithan and Scholastic expressed that they were agreeable to the change, and after a meeting, Levithan told Gino, “Now’s the time to do it.” According to Gino, “There was no pushback in marketing. It was a question of how, not whether.”
The process of retitling an already published work is complex, since “it exists on many different levels,” Levithan said. “Obviously, the biggest thing is changing all editions out there and putting the right title on the book itself.” Gino’s other books listing them as “the author of George” must also be changed accordingly, as must editions sold or translated for foreign markets where the original title was kept.
Redesigning the cover was comparably easy. “It’s the same font,” Gino noted. “It’s the same concept, it’s just her name now, and she’s peeking out of an A instead of an O.” Rather than Melissa’s Story as Gino had suggested, Scholastic opted for Melissa, a straightforward replacement that preserves the simple elegance of the original cover while reflecting the current thinking around addressing trans people by their chosen names. Paralleling their own experience transitioning with Melissa’s literary transformation, Gino had this to say: “It is an extremely trans thing to be told you’re too beautiful to change.”
Readers who are interested in re-covering their copy of the book can find downloadable assets here.