Book written by Meredith Russo (About the Author at the end of review)
Goodreads rating: 4.03/5.00
...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.
So this is a little thing I’m going to start doing with Prism as Ellamae and I (Kara -see my bio below) try to get our Prism Queer Book Club (...that's right) up and going. I like to read, a lot. I’ve never been any sort of book reviewer, so we all thought it would be fun to do a blog post every now and then with any queer books I read.
My Goodreads “To-Read” list is getting long. I’ve had If I Was Your Girl on it for quite some time now, as I try to read as much queer (I use queer in an LGBTQ+ sexuality and gender identity kind of way) fiction as I can. That includes books written by queer authors, books about queer topics, books that have queer characters, etc. I just so happen to be skimming the aisles of the Young Adult section, when I saw If I Was Your Girl on the New shelf (I love YA novels). It looked familiar, but I couldn’t remember from where (again… my GR list is looong…).
I took it home, thinking it was going to be some murder mystery book, since that’s 99% of what I read. I was delighted to find that it was actually about a transgender girl in her senior year of high school. Perfect timing, for my 'queer books to read' list has started to grow. Like usual, I looked up the author. I do this for every author if their first chapter captures my attention. I just really enjoy learning more about them, their experiences, and look up their other work. DON’T LOOK UP THIS AUTHOR BEFORE READING THE BOOK. First, I was thrilled to know it was written by a trans author. But second, I was saddened to read all about how Meredith is apparently not a very kind person to her wife (ex-wife?). There are articles of abuse and a whole big mess of stuff, and it’ll throw you off. Heartbreaking. I had a bad feeling but really wanted to read this book, so I put that part aside and kept on. I’m glad I did.
I also always do this in my head when I read a book I really enjoy… I envision who would be playing them if this were turned into a film (which I totally imagined this book as a movie as I read it):
From top to bottom, left to right:
“I’m not brave,” I said, smiling despite myself. “Bravery implies I had a choice. I’m just me, you know?”
If I Was Your Girl gives readers a rare exploration of a transgender protagonist (at least to me, before I really started to look for those books). It follows a young trans woman who goes to live with her estranged father in a brand new small town because of the relentless bullying at her old school. With this move, Amanda Hardy hopes to start a new life away from the cruelty, danger, and misunderstanding she experience in her old life as Andrew Hardy. This book is about Amanda’s life, the changes she goes through with her transition, her journey, and her new town and school. I don’t want to give anything away because the plot is just really that good, but she’s living with a father she hasn’t seen in years and is finally making friends. She has her first kiss, gets her first boyfriend, and all seems to be going well. But we know with YA novels that nothing ever goes that smoothly. The book takes you through Amanda’s ups and downs, from her varying levels of support – from her new friends, from a dad who can’t really “come to terms” with her transition, and from a mom who realizes she’d rather have an alive daughter than a dead "son."
At the beginning Amanda says about the move, “I would keep my head down and keep quiet. I would graduate. I would go to college as far from the South as I could. I would live.” Soon she realizes that there’s more to life than that, and she wants more options than that. In this new religious town of Lambertville, Amanda finally has the chance at living just a 'normal,' simple life for once as she is met with such popularity. She is well-liked and, for once in her life, she is 'normal.' Amanda becomes close with a handful of new friends and captures the interest from a couple of the popular boys, but can’t escape the constant fear of being 'found out.' She still feels guarded and nervous that she could be outed, but she starts to finally feel like an average teenage girl with a group of friends and a gorgeous football-star boyfriend. It’s all Amanda has ever wanted, but she still can’t help her internal fears that somehow someone might find out her 'secret' and wonders throughout the book if it’s right for her to be in a relationship with a boy without disclosing her past. It takes her some time to feel at ease with a degree of underlying wariness, but she finally gets to do typical teenage girl things. In a world that will tear you apart for being even the slightest bit different from the supposed 'societal norm,' Amanda gives herself the chance to be honest and open about herself. So how would her friends, and especially her boyfriend, react if they found out?
This book is insightful and powerful and beautiful, and I couldn’t put the book down. It instantly stood out. It’s been awhile since I picked a book up that hooked me from the beginning. This story explores important questions, such as disclosing your past to your partner in order to feel like you’re being your authentic self. At the end of the day, you need to be happy and most importantly you need to feel safe. Amanda found that in Grant.
I also enjoyed the author’s letter after the book ends. She points out that this story doesn’t represent the trans community, or a transwoman’s experience, as a whole. She makes note that she is a storyteller, and does not speak for everyone else. This is a fictionalized look at one trans experience, and not a comprehensive story of all types of experiences and identities that folks have. She clearly states that Amanda’s character “passes as a woman with little to no effort” and that trans representation is not a monolith. There are varying identities and stages and different types of trans folks and transwomen, all worthy and beautiful, and very much women. Her letter shows a number of conscious decisions she made on coming up with Amanda’s character in hopes of removing the barriers for a cisgender reader.
I highly suggest reading this book. Since reading it I’ve went to the library and checked out a handful of other queer YA novels and memoirs. Hopefully I’ll find one that hooks me again like this one did. I did try to start the books Drag Teen by Jeffrey Self and Lily & Dunkin by Donna Gephart, neither of which held my interest in the least. It was probably the writing. It was a little too young adult for me.
More reviews to come in the future though, because I know I’ll find more books to read!
About the Author of If I Was Your Girl
MEREDITH RUSSO was born, raised, and lives in Tennessee. She started living as her true self in late 2013 and never looked back. If I Was Your Girl was partially inspired by her experiences as a trans woman. Like Amanda, Meredith is a gigantic nerd who spends a lot of her time obsessing over video games and Star Wars.
My rating: 4.50/5.00
Kara is a bisexual feminist and scientist who believes in Bigfoot, resides in the Twin Ports with her partner and 5 pets, and who wishes she were a librarian or bookstore owner. Kara likes hanging out with the people in her life who inspire her and provoke her to go after what she wants, while supporting, loving, and living life to the fullest. She hopes you'll join in the discussion at the Prism Queer Book Club meetings, times/dates TBA.