If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo review

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

If I Was Your Girl
by Meredith Russo
Published: May 3rd 2016 by Flatiron Books
Genre: young adult, romance, contemporary
Pages: 288p
Source: library borrow
Rating: ★★★★☆

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.

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If I Was Your Girl is raw but it is not tragic. There is no tiptoeing around the pain in Amanda’s story – although it is mentioned in the author’s note that Amanda was made to be as ‘unchallenging’ to cis readers (that’s me) as possible. I read the author’s note before I started the book and I’m glad that I did. There are no spoilers within, and it adds another dimension that I think is important to remember as you’re reading.

From the author’s note, “To my cisgender readers:”

I have, in some ways, cleaved to stereotypes and even bent rules to make Amanda’s trans-ness as unchallenging to normative assumptions as possible. She knew from a very young age. She is exclusively attracted to boys. She is entirely feminine. She passes as a woman with little to no effort. She had a surgery that her family should not have been able to afford, and she started hormones trough legitimate channels before she probably could have in the real world. I did this because I wanted you to have no possible barrier to understanding Amanda as a teenage girl with a different medical history from most other girls.

The author’s note continues, bookended with reminders to take Amanda’s story as neither gospel nor dogma, then breaks again to address the trans readers as well. As a cis woman, I can’t pull a quote from that portion and praise it as helpful or insightful because it isn’t meant for me and it’s not my place to tell a trans person what I think might aid their experience of a story about them.

Now for the meat of the story. Half of the story is told in the present, when Amanda has moved to live with her dad after an incident in her hometown. The latter half of most chapters is at a relevant moment in her past, all from years before the present day.

Amanda’s tale is filled with hope and love and pain, though there is far more hope and love than hurt and heartache. It was easy to connect with her because she just felt so real to me. She felt like a girl I knew at school, even if I couldn’t name anyone in particular. This is a tricky line in most media – a lot of the times characters, especially in YA or films with a teen audience in mind, stray too far into #relatable Fellow Kids territory. For me, Amanda was whole and real and shared many of the same experiences that I had in high school. She isn’t holier-than-thou, supremely privileged (another problem I tend to have with contemporary YA but I won’t go on about that any more), hyper-intelligent, or really any far end of any spectrum, good or bad. She is just an average, kind girl who loves Star Wars, and I loved that about her.

It was really heartwarming how wonderful her friends were to her, at least for the most part. I feel like a lot of the time, especially in contemporary YA, the friends get shoved to the side once the love interest comes along. The balance between Amanda’s time with Grant and time with her friends was really refreshing. Oddly enough, I felt like I knew Grant less than I knew her pals, even though we learn deeper, more serious things about Grant than most of Amanda’s friends. As usual, I found myself caring far less about the love interest than the friends, though I found the romance bit of this to be pretty well done. That is to say, Grant is not a borderline abusive jackass.

This really isn’t related to the book’s innards (which is what reviews are mostly for) but the face that this is not only ownvoices, but also features a trans model on the cover is excellent! Kira Conley has done some excellent work.

Finally, I would like to mention that there is discussion of rape as well as attempted sexual assault. Amanda also experiences suicidal thoughts and at one point her past suicide attempt is described in detail during a latter chapter-half where we experience moments from Amanda’s past. Especially because this is told in first-person, this is something I would have liked to know before I came across it so I wouldn’t have been so affected by it.

If I Was Your Girl is a short read, technically ‘easy’ though emotionally trying, and a book I can easily recommend. If you are looking for a book about a trans girl that might pull on your heartstrings in a way that’s more heartwarming with a minimal amount of hurt, try George by Alex Gino. Both are ownvoices stories and both are excellent.

What is your favorite ownvoices novel with an LGBTQIA+ main character?

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