Melissa Peterson is the tall, blond, fashion-conscious member of the Handy Helpers. She lives with her mother, Fran, grandmother, Sarah, and seven-year-old sister, Trisha. In books one and two, Melissa’s father, Cody, is in the army in Afghanistan. He returns home for good at the end of book two.
Melissa likes to be well-dressed. While her friends are happy to be comfortable in jeans and T-shirts, Melissa chooses to wear designer jeans and fancy tops. According to Melissa, no outfit is complete without lots of accessories. She dons a myriad of scarves, jewelry, belts, and boots. Amber’s mother calls it dressing to the nines. Amber suggests that sometimes Melissa is guilty of dressing to the eighteens or even the twenty-sevens.
Melissa is definitely the most rebellious of the Handy Helpers. She is the one who comes up the crazy ideas. Fortunately, Amber and Laura are there to rein her in at times. Melissa is an intelligent young lady, but is sometimes lazy, especially when it comes to school work. She should be an A student like Laura, but her procrastination often costs her in the grade department.
Melissa’s relationship with her sister Trisha is typical of many girls growing up. Unlike Melissa, Trisha is a good student. She does her homework every day and appears to be a the perfect child. But looks can be deceiving. Trisha has a mind of her own and can be very sneaky. This conversation between Trisha and Melissa from book two is one of my favorites.
“I have to borrow one of your Junie B. Jones books,” Melissa told her sister, Trisha, as she walked into her room. “I’m supposed to read to the first-grade class in the library on Friday.”
“I’m going to the library Friday,” Trisha said. “Are you going to read to my class?”
“Yeah, I’m reading to your class. Now where are the Junie B. Jones books?”
“They’re on the shelf over there, but you’ll have to pay me a dollar for rent.”
“What are you talking about?” Melissa said, upset. “I gave you those books. They were mine.”
“You gave them to me, so now they’re mine.”
“I’m not paying you anything.”
“Then you can’t use my book.”
“We’ll see what Mom has to say about it.”
“Oh, all right, but you better not mess it up.”
Melissa’s mother, Fran, is the manager of the Pizza Pan restaurant. She is a busy but involved mother. Fran is patient but firm with both her daughters. Melissa has a close relationship with her mother and feels comfortable confiding in her at times. But it is Melissa’s grandmother, Sarah, that Melissa turns to often when she is having problems. Melissa and her grandmother share a love of swimming. Sarah was on her college swim team and even had a chance to be in the Olympics. When Melissa joins the Special Olympics unified swim team in book three, Sarah volunteers to be the coach.
Sarah is a loving grandmother who is always there, but doesn’t intrude–at least not too often. In book two, Melissa is struggling with her jealousy over Beth Anne. Sarah offers some advice which Melissa immediately blows off with “You just don’t understand. I wish things could go back to the way they were before Beth Anne came.” Later in the book when Melissa comes to see things differently, she realizes that her grandmother was right all along.
Melissa’s relationship with her father is one of her biggest challenges. While her father was in Afghanistan, Melissa enjoyed a certain amount of independence permitted by her mother. At first, Melissa was excited when her father returned home and even more excited that he wasn’t going back. But as time goes on, her feelings change. Unsure about his role in the family, Cody tries to put restrictions on Melissa. Of course she struggles against this and their relationship is strained. Fran points out to Melissa that when her father left she was a little girl like Trisha. It will take him time to adjust to the changes. This will be an on-going challenge for Melissa in future books.
The Handy Helpers books are available on amazon