The debut novel by Meredith Russo, If I Was Your Girl, is a fantastic novel that I urge everyone to read. Not only is it a wonderfully written diverse #ownvoices novel, but it features a great coming of age and a wonderful coming out story.
Amanda has just transferred to a new school. She must make new friends, deal with the guy that she has a crush on, and figure out how to live with her dad. She has a secret that is the reason why she transferred and why she wants to keep her head down to finish out the school year. But Amanda isn’t like any other new girl, she is transgender. But this boy just won’t leave her alone and her crush blossoms. Soon she starts spending all her time with him, and her new friends, and quickly finds out that if she wants to truly be friends, there’s some secrets that she needs to tell. Secrets that could not only change her relationships forever, but get her killed.
‘You can have anything…once you admit you deserve it.’ (180)
If I Was Your Girl is an important read that is poignant and contemporary. It isn’t a book that is light hearted, but it is raw and incredibly powerful. This coming out story brilliantly juxtaposes Amanda’s journey by revealing pieces of her past with her present struggles. Can I also just say that the parallels between Amanda’s experiences and the Sandman comics is wonderful and such a great detail? There are so many great touches like this (like the Halloween costume exchange) that just illustrate how wonderfully crafted this story is. But her whole story is more than just her identity, instead illustrating her challenges in high school: first kisses, over-protective dads, and friend betrayals.
The Main Character
‘I’m not brave…Bravery implies I had a choice. I’m just me, you know?’ (255)
Amanda is an extremely strong person for having the courage to fight through what society tells her and embrace her true self. The amount of gendered language and the way it is ingrained into the fabric of our society is something we are socialized into from birth. Not only must Amanda wade through all of that, but she is forced to deal with the transphobia and violence associated with challenging the ideas of ‘normal’.
She faces danger on all fronts and her fear about being exposed is evidenced by her bruises and daily torment. By allowing us to witness her past and experiences, we can see a much fuller picture of Amanda and her identity. (I just wanted to throw out there, that Amanda’s past has quite cruel hate crimes, transphobia, and biphobia to name a few). It isn’t just about her trans-identity, but also about her growing up and struggling with that process too.
The Side Characters
In terms of side characters, I really loved Amanda’s mother. She was supportive and loving, while being honest about her own emotional process. Her friends have some diversity in them as well and are all important for her to grow. It is incredibly important for Amanda to have loving and supportive relationships. While her goal may have been to get through her last year, she finds that with the right people, she is able to experience life at its fullest and have experiences she never thought would be possible. I do wish that some of her friends, like Chloe and Anna had a few more scenes and quirks. I would have wanted to get to know them better.
As an #ownvoices novel, the author’s note is incredibly refreshing to read. It illustrates Russo’s decision making process and own acknowledgement of the book. I am not transgender, so Russo’s note was extremely helpful. It was great to read Russo’s commentary saying that she had “in some ways, cleaved to stereotypes and even bent rules to make Amanda’s trans-ness as unchallenging to normative assumptions as possible” (275-276). Some things I had a little difficulty with, in terms of storyline, were explained by the note. Addressing the trans-readers as well was a wonderful touch that made the whole message of the book even more powerful and the author even more compelling.
Putting it into perspective makes this book even more important to read, especially as today’s culture evolves. There is a lack of voices in this department and I am so glad that Russo’s debut novel is so fantastic. Because of the diversity and the storyline, this book is incredibly important to read and I highly recommend it.
What is the best novel with a trans MC that you have read?
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