If I Was Your Girl - Meredith Russo

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. 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 in. 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 she used to be Andrew.

Will the truth cost Amanda her new life--and her new love?

This book ruined me... In a good way, mind you, but still... 

This book made me so angry. Angry about how trans people are treated in society. Angry about how often trans youth are driven to suicide and self-harm because of peer hostility. Angry about how we view sexual violence as an inevitable part of trans existence. And angry about how often violence and destructive behaviour becomes a part of fictional narratives because it is "realistic." There is a lot of anger that I feel, and though the book highlights why I feel these things, it is an absolutely amazing book for the exact same reasons.

I need to start with some absolute praise for Macmillan/Flatiron for the incredible work they did on this book, for not only publishing a book about a trans YA character, written by a transgender author, but also featuring a transgender cover model and recording an audio book with a trans narrator! When academics, reviewers, and other critics (like myself) talk about the need for publishers to take a stand and be forward-thinking, THIS is what we mean.

Russo has written a novel that is not only about a transgender teen, but has written a book that stands outside of the cliche trans YA tropes that rely so heavily on medicalization, psychotherapy, hormone treatments, coming out, and the inevitable social trauma and sexual violence that follows. This is not to say that Russo's book skirts these issues, but rather that she manages to make them both central to the characterization of the protagonist, Amanda, and also somewhat peripheral to the main plot. Though the novel itself focuses on a romance plot which some might consider just too similar to the many romantic YA books released in the field, I assure you that this novel stands very much on its own two feet.

Surgery, hormone therapies, and the "inevitable" sexual violence I spoke about earlier, do take place within the novel, they are secondary, in the end, to the more complex relationship story that takes place between Amanda, her father, her mother, and her new boyfriend Grant. While certain amounts of cliche are present within the romance, Russo keeps things from crossing over into Harlequin territory, and also from turning into fodder worthy of the same critique as all too many early LGBTQ YA titles.

The ending [don't worry, I'm not going to spoil it] is hopeful. Though perhaps not "happily ever after" there is certainly an amount of "happy for now" that the novel has going for it. And there are more things to look forward to! Russo's text does not focus on violence, thought it does emphasize the unfortunate amount of violence that is a part of trans youth's lives. The parents are not entirely accepting nor entirely dismissive of Amanda, thus creating a *gasp* complex and realistic portrayal of family life in such a situation.

Those who know me, or those who have read any of my work, will likely understand that I am not a fan of the "inevitable" sexual violence that often accompanies stories of sexual or gender difference in YA literature. Though I understand that contemporary realism does require realistic portrayals of some teens' experiences, I often wonder about the necessity of such portrayals. That being said, I feel that the uses of such situations within this novel are not excessive or necessarily manipulative, and will likely help readers to better understand the anger that I noted earlier in this post!

Russo gives her readers hardship and hope, trauma and truth, complexity and controversy. This is a novel that is important, necessary, beautiful, and breathtaking. I can't recommend this novel enough, especially for those who are, like me, tired of seeing the same portrayals of trans lives shown over and over again in the same ways. There are some similarities throughout the novel, the If I Was Your Girl also challenges many of this tropes and creates a narrative of understanding, heartbreak, righteous anger, and optimism for the future.

Highly Recommended

(Note: This review is from an Advance Reading Copy - Out May 2016)


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