if i was your girl // book review

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If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

published by Usborne on June 1st 2016

★★★★ 4 STARS

Thank you to Usborne for sending me an ARC of this book! All thoughts and opinions are my honest own. Quoted excerpts liable to change in finished copy.

Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school who seems to have it all. Good grades and hot boys falling at her feet aren’t all that, though, when it turns out she’s harbouring a secret: she’s trans. After being attacked in her old town for using the girls bathroom, Amanda escapes her past life to move in with her estranged father, who she hasn’t properly talked to since transitioning. It’s difficult, and tough, but the hardest part for her is trying to navigate high school in a largely religious and homophobic town, all the while submerging who she truly is from those in her present she is yet to fully trust.

“For as long as I could remember, I had been apologising for existing, for trying to be who I was, to live the life I was meant to lead.”

One of the most interesting dimensions of If I Was Your Girl is definitely the setting. I’m sure being trans is hard enough, but coupling that with the south of the USA is one tough situation to find yourself in. As Amanda is quickly confronted by, even the people you come to know as friends might surprise you with homophobic stickers all over the back of their car. I personally struggled to connect with the setting, and thus the characters, but I think it adds that extra layer – raising additional questions – that a more liberal town might not have.

The friendships, for one, are an integral part of the story. With Chloe, Layla, and Anna Amanda is very much ‘one of the girls’ and it’s really rather heart-warming to read about. When first presented with the trio, a collection of pretty popular girls, vs Bee, a misfit bisexual, I thought that the plot would fall right into the stereotypical traps. ‘Popular clique look nice but are bitchy and will make your life hell’, ‘Misfit transcends the rules of society to be an awesome badass friend’ yada yada. I was wrong. So wrong. I enjoy that If I Was Your Girl is about who you really are, not how others perceive you.

“‘The truth is that you’re my friend, Amanda. You’re one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever known, inside and out.'”

However, the book is not without its pitfalls. Overall, Amanda as a character was a little vanilla for my taste; the same can be said of her relationship with Grant. If this was just an ordinary YA romance I would’ve given it a low rating because there’s just… hardly any substance? It feels a little contrived. Like, Grant is there, so Grant’ll do. There’s no spark, y’know? And I would’ve loved a little spark to set these characters alight.

One thing that kept me turning pages the entire time was a deep sense of dread that somebody was going to out Amanda – somehow – and she’d be put into a dangerous situation again. Even in the quiet moments of the story there is always this buzzing dread interlacing everything and it really sets you on edge.

“If I’d had the strength to be normal, I thought, or at least the strength to die, then everyone would have been happy.”

Ultimately, I’m of the view that the whole book isn’t spectacular but it is important. Very, very important. I didn’t give it 4 stars just for being a story about a trans character but the way it brings trans issues to the forefront of the store is incredibly done. It is both a learning piece for cis readers and a note of comfort for trans people. Amanda’s story, as Meredith Russo highlights in an author’s note printed in the book, is not “gospel” but it is one version of several truths. Comparatively, she has an easier life than many trans people do, but that doesn’t make her story any less valid. Russo’s If I Was Your Girl is certainly going to help pave the way for more amazing trans lit to hit the shelves in the coming years.

you’ll love this if…

  • You adored The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson.
  • You’re a trans person who wants to see more trans characters in YA (who doesn’t?) or you’re not trans and simply want to understand more, or read more diversely.
  • Southern USA romances are your thangg.

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2 thoughts on “if i was your girl // book review

  1. Reg @ She Latitude

    I actually gave this book two stars and would say that The Art of Being Normal was a better read of the two, haha.

    I’m really glad that you liked it and that you felt more of a sense of dread – in my opinion, everything came too easily for Amanda, and the tension was sorely lacking. Yes, she was in the South, but pretty much everyone was supportive of her. I also felt like Amanda’s friends were supremely underdeveloped and didn’t have much of a personality — they were just there. I agree that the romance is contrived, though, and that it feels very much ‘Grant’s there, Grant’ll do’ like you said (in fact that’s very eloquent of you!).

    Here’s my review, if you’re interested. 🙂

    Like

    • Jessica

      (Sorry for the late response) Couldn’t agree more, really loved The Art of Being Normal! This could’ve been something really really special and whilst it’s still useful and GREAT to see diverse books on shelves, it could’ve been better ahhh

      Like

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