I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
Published by Flatiron Books on January 1st 1970
Genres: Young Adult, LGBTQ
Format: hardcover, E-book
Reading Challenges: 2016 50 Book Challenge, 2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge
Source: Finished copy from publisher, Purchased from Amazon
A new kind of big-hearted novel about being seen for who you really are.
Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.
But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won't be able to see past it.
Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It's that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love?
Meredith Russo's If I Was Your Girl is a universal story about feeling different—and a love story that everyone will root for.
A book about a trans girl written by a trans author? Hallelujah, my #ownvoices reading prayers have been answered.
For real, y’all. I’ve been disappointed by much of the translit that’s out there in YA because, while these books have good intentions, they just miss the mark in some way. I picked up If I Was Your Girl during an author signing at NCTE (the National Council of Teachers of English conference), and Meredith Russo explained to me that she is the first trans YA author to write a story about a trans character, and I immediately told her how excited I was to finally see an #ownvoices book about a trans character.
I think my favorite element of the novel is that it does start in the middle of Amanda’s journey to transition. She’s starting at a new school after her battle of coming out, attending therapy, starting hormones, and undergoing surgery. The story gives flashback’s to Amanda’s life growing up and making sense of her identity through the incident that resulted in her having to switch schools. This isn’t a coming out story, but a living life story.
That being said, I think this book is getting more hype and awards for being an #ownvoices book that for the actual story present between the pages. Yes, it is honest and real and gives the reader a glimpse into the ups and downs of living life in a way that feels true to the protagonist’s gender identity. And it is a surprisingly hopeful tale, with generally supportive (though imperfect) parents and peers. Most notably, Amanda has the advantage of passing quite well as female, and boys at her new school find her particularly attractive. Though there are still conflicts (and dangers) that give the story a plot, the story does give Amanda a level of privilege than many transfolk do not have. This is not problematic, but does require me to repeat something that I say often with YA literature: that we need more books in the #ownvoices of #diversevoices so we avoid essentializing experiences. The author herself addresses this directly in the afterward of the book:
“I’m worried that you might take Amanda’s story as gospel, especially since it comes from a trans woman. This prospect terrifies me, actually! I am a storyteller, not an educator. I have taken liberties with what I know reality to be.”
This is Russo’s story. It is a good story. It is a contemporary novel that didn’t really blow my mind or shake my world with its plot, but I enjoyed it, purchased it, and will endlessly recommend it to my peers in the YA lit and education worlds.
It is my hope that Russo continues writing novels, as she is talented in creating characters and putting words on the page. I appreciated the subtle complexities of each character’s reactions and understandings of the world. We have jocks and Christian girls who do not read as stereotypes, and a romance that delivered unexpected swoons. As a person from the small-town south, I also loved how much the “vibe” of the modern small town south was present on every page — many authors paint a dated or Hollywood-ized picture of this world that doesn’t ring true to the world I knew and know. Russo is a truly talented writer just stretching her writing muscles in her first novel, and I can’t wait to see what she writes next.
FINAL GRADE: B
At its heart, this novel is a contemporary romance. For me, this category of YA tends to be fairly formulaic and, though good, fails to wow me. If I Was Your Girl challenges the genre, however, by focusing on a trans character in an #ownvoices story. I have to give this credit for being the innovative and important book that it is, despite my own judgements about a genre that is, admittedly, not my favorite. I highly recommend you read this book, buy a copy, and lend it to all of your friends!