Melissa, the heroine of Lasko-Gross’ semi-autobiographical graphic novel, is a willful and perceptive child who continually questions the world around her. She rebels against what she sees as arbitrary decisions imposed upon her by adults, including her hippie parents. Melissa often feels disconnected from her peers at school; to comfort herself she makes comics and immerses herself in her rich imagination. The “special” in the title refers to the special education classes she takes in school, and despite trying her hardest to escape from under that label, she remains anything but ordinary.
Told in a series of brief anecdotes, many of them only one or two pages in length, the coming-of-age story of Melissa travels in rough chronological order from her earliest memory as a toddler of seeing her mother sick to the traumas of her teen years. The story is perfectly suited for the graphic novel format, and Lasko-Gross fills her panels with boldly drawn expressive characters and lots of action. While her family is Jewish, Melissa wants nothing to do with Judaism. She feels that her parents are hypocritical when they send her to “Jew school,” and she forces herself to vomit to get out of going to temple. In another anecdote, Melissa is visiting more observant friends for Shabbat dinner, and when she makes fun of the prayers and gets reprimanded she grumbles that she is glad that her family is not Orthodox and “has a sense of humor.”