If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
Novel: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo | GoodreadsRelease Date: May 3, 2016Publisher: Flatiron Books (Macmillan)Format: ARCSource: Publisher
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.
This book made me cry, multiple times.That's honestly the highest badge of honor I can give to a book. It was resonant. It was important - both in subject matter and stylistically. Also, mad props to this one for getting me out of my reading slump in one sitting.I always look forward to books that will shape the way I think. I come back to literature both because I enjoy the escapism and because I want to understand other perspectives. So I went into If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo eager for the same sort of clarifying, transcendent experience that characterized George by Alex Gino for me. Like George, this one kept me up late into the night. Although it’s easy (for me, at least) to rally behind movement supporting transgender people, it’s not always easy to understand how much they face on a daily basis, and the multifaceted aspects of their gender that reverberate into so many segments of their lives. I think it’s so important that such powerful trans voices exist to affect young people. Because although it’s a relevant issue for SO many teens - identity, gender, sex - it’s not often represented, or represented well, in literature. And YA is supposed to be a mirror. It’s supposed to be a coming-of-age!I can speak very little on behalf of whether or not Russo portrayed any of this accurately (because I'm a cisgendered girl who's never had any gender issues or processes aside from those I've witnessed or read about) but I can say that this book has a lot of heart and emotion wrapped up within it. It rings with a penetrative honesty.Amanda’s voice reverberated through the page so distinctly that I knew within twenty pages that I had found a book I wouldn’t be able to put down. I really really liked her. I felt like she was someone I could be friends with, and she also struck me as incredibly intelligent. The writing style pressed notes of melancholy and fear throughout the narrative, weaving sentences that were beautiful without getting tangled.Another element of If I Was Your Girl that I really enjoyed was that it wasn’t an issue book. It wasn’t specifically about Amanda’s transition or about her being transgender. It was about her moving into a new town, facing the skeletons in her closet, figuring out who to trust, and falling in love for the first time. It fostered so many thoughts in so many other regions: gossip, religion, relationships, etc,.This book came down to relationships.First of all, Amanda is closest to her parents. They’re the ones who stuck with her throughout her confusing, depressive childhood and transition. They’re the ones who are invested in her fresh start, namely because they’re trying to keep her alive. They’re the ones watching out for her despite her frantic excitement over being around friends, substances, and love for the first time. I loved how understanding they could be, and also how frictional what they said could be. This book really made me aware of how keenly small comments can hurt, especially coming from somebody you care about, and how casually offensive language could be tossed around.Her friends were likable, although they could be superficially developed at times. Their stuttering devotion always made Amanda unsure about whether or not she should open up, but at the root of it, they did a lot for her. The subplots hovering around them were smart, precise, and emotional.The relationship between Amanda and Grant is really passionate, spun in a way that’s intoxicating.I always give mad props to authors who manage to pluck and craft inexplicably sincere and cinematic high school atmospheres without veering into the cliche. It takes so much skill to be able to accurately represent a lot of what goes on in these places, while making the scenarios vivid enough to be appealing. I wanted to live vicariously through some of their dates, through some of their interactions that were tinged in awkwardness and enthrallment. The romance is definitely one of the strong suits of Russo’s story. Grant is both earnest and yet misunderstanding in some of the way that a lot of high-schoolers are. As Amanda grows closer to him - and therefore closer to revealing her past to him - some of the things that he says are cringeworthy and yet realistic. Some of their interactions are flawed, and fast, and yet brilliant. As the story unfolds, they each begin to show their development in differing, stunning ways that change their relationship.Plus, I adored how affected Amanda is by God, and vice versa. I’m a Christian, and I even find that underrepresented in YA, unless it’s produced by a Christian imprint. Many writers might worry that putting religion in their book makes it less universal somehow. Amanda grapples with the idea of Christianity within the book, because she connects with church. And yet she struggles with the idea that some of the people in more stringent denominations believed that she's unloved, and unnatural. How could she support a God who supposedly believes she is innately sinful? How did her acceptance of herself somehow make her worse than the boys harassing her in the back, than the people who beat her, than the rudeness of those believers who condemned her? How could she still be religious when being in a church made her heart pound? I loved the meditative nature of her reflections and her questions. I loved that she questions almost everything around her, because her entire life is bathed in uncertainty despite the simple fact: she is a girl.Plot-wise, it was well-done. I thought the ending felt a little quick, and I would have liked to have seen it spread out, but I thought it did a good job of touching base on many of the subplots introduced by Russo. Like I mentioned before, scenes felt coherent and organized, without sacrificing intensity or poignancy.I found light in everything If I Was Your Girl covered, despite the toughness of the issues covered. Amanda's voice was introspective, and perceptive in a way that lent her maturity despite her giddiness over the teenage experience; it was a balance that was immeasurably charming. I loved it. I loved the story. I loved the thoughts it inspired.I really hope this book is given the opportunity to move other people, because it definitely moved me. (Bonus: it's a trans book written by a trans writer, with a trans cover model. We Need Diverse Books for the win.)