Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Review: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
Series: Standalone
Published: May 3rd, 2016
Publisher: Flatiron Books
280 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Contemporary Young Adult/LGBTQ
Acquired this book: Library
Warning: May contain spoilers
{GoodReads || Buy this book: Amazon || Chapters/Indigo}

Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school in Lambertville, Tennessee. Like any other girl, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret. There’s a reason why she transferred schools for her senior year, and why she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

And then she meets Grant Everett. Grant is unlike anyone she’s ever met—open, honest, kind—and Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself…including her past. But she’s terrified that once she tells Grant the truth, he won't be able to see past it.

Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that she used to be Andrew.

I’m going to be perfectly honest: I read If I Was Your Girl because I knew it was an important book’. I’ll read just about any LGBTQ+ book, and since a) I hadn’t read any books with a main character who’s trans, and b) this is an own voices book, it felt like something I should read so I’d be able to recommend a book with a trans MC if anyone asked.

What I’m basically trying to get at is something Dahlia Adler said better than I seem to be able to: “You know books people say are great just because they're so necessary in concept and premise, but then the execution and/or style kinda suck but no one wants to admit it?

This is not that.”

I’ve read those books. Those books that fill a gaping hole in publishing, that some people truly do need, but that end up falling flat on a personal level for whatever reason. If I Was Your Girl was truly not that. I went into it expecting I would probably like it and knowing I’d learn a few things, but I didn’t expect it to resonate so deeply and on so many levels.

Amanda is a fantastic, layered character. She’s smart, she’s funny, and she wants what most girls want: to be safe, to be loved, and to have healthy relationships with family and friends. There was so much more to her than just being a trans girl. I’ve read my share of books where the main character’s sexuality or ID was the main focus of the book and there was little plot or character development, but I felt like I got to know who Amanda was and I was proud of her strength and growth throughout the story. The flashback chapters were a nice added touch. It was interesting and insightful to see Amanda as a child - as Andrew - wanting to be a girl when she grew up, certain there had somehow been a mistake somewhere along the way, and then bits of her transition and what led her to moving in with her dad.

There were great secondary characters in this book, from Amanda’s parents to her new friends to Grant, the love interest. I appreciated how we got to see Amanda’s parents before, during, and after her transition. It was raw, it was painful, and it was honest. It wasn’t easy for any of them, and I was glad we got to see their struggle, but also that they were trying. There were some beautiful, real, emotionally-charged moments with her parents that I loved. Amanda’s group of new friends were the exact type I like to see - very different personality wise, but they love each other unconditionally even if there are certain things about each other they don’t understand.

Before reading this book, I was aware of some of the obstacles trans people face, but this book really opened my eyes. I learned so much, and while Russo mentions in the author’s note that her goal wasn’t to educate but to tell a story, I really did feel like my eyes were opened to a lot of things. Amanda’s story could have easily been filled with even more heartache and pain, abuse, and worse, but I appreciated so much that we got to see a trans character forming relationships, finding love, and being happy. There are enough tragedies for LGBTQ+ people in real life - abuse, suicides, murders, mental health issues - that it was refreshing to see a girl like Amanda get the happy ending (or more aptly, the happy beginning) she deserved.

If I Was Your Girl made me run the gamut of emotions - sadness, anger, happiness, hopefulness. It’s a story I think so many people will connect with, whether they’re cisgender, trans, gay, straight, or anything in between. At the heart of it, Amanda is just a regular girl, and this is a beautiful story about friendship, first love, family, and self-discovery. A definite must-read for teens, and for anyone else who enjoys well-written, heartfelt, emotional contemporary YA.

Have you read If I Was Your Girl? What did you think? If you haven't read it, do you plan to? Do you have any recommendations for books with trans characters?

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