Published by Flatiron Books on May 3, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Goodreads: ★★★ 1/2
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.
If I Was Your Girl is a debut young adult novel following teenager Amanda as she moves in with the dad she hasn’t seen in years to start at a new school. She leaves her mom and everything familiar behind to escape the bullying she’s experienced throughout her childhood. Amanda hopes that she can stay undercover at her new school, because she doesn’t want anyone to know her secret – that she is a transgender girl. I picked up this book because I wanted to read an Own Voices novel, written by a transgender woman. While I really enjoyed the story and think it is a good debut, it did fall a bit flat for me in some places.
First, I want to talk about the writing style, which is the most important aspect of any book for me. I found Russo’s writing to be very strong and well done. I always appreciate when an author can write in a realistic and age appropriate voice without sacrificing quality. However, I did notice that the pacing of the novel seemed a bit off in some places. For example, one of the early scenes in the book features Amanda eating at a diner with her father. They leave the dinner with “half-eaten” plates, but the plates were just set down with no break in the dialogue. These rushed scenes occur in a few places throughout the novel, and need to be flushed out more to create better pacing for the story.
Moreover, I really loved the relationships we see in this book. Amanda builds and grows familial relationships, friendships, and a romantic relationship, too. I especially enjoyed seeing Amanda’s father learning to accept her, and provide support for her when she needs it most. Of course, it is also nice to see strong female friendships in young adult literature, and I really liked the scenes where Amanda is hanging out with her new group of friends. There are lot of interesting dynamics within this group, including some juicy secrets, that were fun to see played out.
In fact, secrets play a very important role in this novel. The entire plot of If I Was Your Girl revolves around Amanda keeping it a secret that she is transgender. As a reader, I was essentially waiting for this secret to be revealed for the entirety of the book. While I did wish that wasn’t the main point of the story, it did make me think about all of the secrets we each have in life, whether big or small, and how disclosing them is not always a simple thing do to.
I want to close out my review with what I hope will be a sensitive and respectful discussion of Amanda’s gender identity. I am so glad that this book is about a trans girl, and I picked it up to learn more about what someone like Amanda goes through in life. I know I cannot properly critique the choices Russo made while writing this book, as I am cisgender, but I am a bit uncomfortable with how If I Was Your Girl represents the trans community. Russo writes in her Author’s Note that she is a storyteller, and not an educator. However, I do think this book would be much stronger if it did include more educational aspects. For instance, there are some aspects with the trans experience that a cis reader may not understand, such as the role of hormones and dilation in a trans woman’s life. While Russo does not need to go into detail about these things, it would be helpful if she quickly explained what they are to the audience.
Moreover, I also think it is a bit damaging to write Amanda as the “perfect” and stereotypical trans girl on purpose. I can understand that Russo is trying to introduce cis readers to a trans girl that passes easily and is, in a way, easier to relate to, but I also think that readers cannot learn from this book if we are provided with the stereotypes we already see in pop culture. I think it would be better to provide readers with a true representation of a trans woman, and not one based on our false stereotypes. Of course, I know that all of us, whether trans or not, are extremely different, and there is not one “true” representation. Nonetheless, I wish Russo provided us with a character who she felt represents a more genuine trans story, and not the story cis people want to read. In the same way, trans readers might feel as if their experience isn’t being represented because Amanda is written in a stereotypical manner.
All in all, I did enjoy If I Was Your Girl, and I think it is a good debut for Russo. The book would be much stronger if it was longer, as more detail could be added to the story. Nonetheless, I do recommend it as an LGBTQIA+ read, and I look forward to what Russo writes next.
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