If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

4/5 stars

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo is a well-written young adult contemporary novel about transgender teen Amanda Hardy, born Andrew.  The cover blurb felt a little misleading, making it seem like a darker and more suspenseful story than it actually was.  As it is, there’s already enough suspense given the premise: post-transition, Amanda moves to live with her father in the Southern small town of Lambertville, where no one knows about her past.

Amanda yearns for what she thinks of as ordinary high school experiences and wants to get out of the South ASAP.  At her new school, she meets and falls in love with Grant, her first boyfriend, and makes friends with many different kinds of people, from an outcast to a fundamentalist Christian.  The author convincingly evokes the immense loneliness and solitude of always living a lie.  I had great sympathy for Amanda and her predicament, her desire to feel normal, while dreading knowing that there are many people who would reject and condemn her for being who she is, not least of all high school boys and girls with especially rigid definitions of who and what you are allowed to be.

The story switches between the main character’s pre-Amanda life and her present, and how she struggles to be truthful to herself.  I often felt tense waiting for the bottom to drop out, and when it does it’s not as terrible as it could have been or as I thought it would be.  Part of this is due to Amanda’s dad, who is goodhearted but can’t quite understand her.  He is trying, though, which is probably the most that any teen can expect from any parent – the sincere attempts to understand the growing independence and new self-defined ways of being that may be alien to a parent.  Amanda’s dad recognizes that life might be especially difficult for his daughter, and even though he doesn’t have a perfect understanding, his efforts do matter.

This is ultimately a hopeful book – Amanda has more options, more friends, and more possibilities of a future full of love than you might expect from her past.  I would love to see more voices like Amanda’s (and Russo herself).  The author acknowledges that Amanda’s gender identity had less nuance and hews more closely to stereotypical gender norms and expectations because she wanted it to be easier to access from a general audience.  However, the more voices the better: since fewer voices mean a more disproportionate burden of representation, more voices means we get those nuances.

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