If I Was Your Girl
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published May 3rd, 2016
Reviewed by Hayley Anderton
This is one of those books that is very hard to forget. While I had some issues with this book, and at times found it a little predictable, it doesn’t much matter. This is one of those books that matters because of what it talks about: in particular the issues presented to teen trans girls in a world that isn’t ready for them.
If I Was Your Girl follows the story of Amanda, formerly Andrew, as she moves to live with her father. She’s got a past that she’s ready to bury, and she wants to start living life the way any other teenage girl would. But it’s not all that simple. When Amanda meets Grant and starts to fall in love, she has to decide whether she wants to reveal her secret: that she used to have the body of a boy.
What I love about this book is that it’s willing to delve into the horrors many trans girls face, especially in America. It doesn’t shy away from the bullying, or the all too familiar situation of parents being unable to deal with their children’s transitions. The relationship between Amanda and her parent’s is so well written – especially her father. Throughout the book he struggles to deal with the changes to his daughter, but what I love is that he slowly, if grudgingly, learns to accept her. I also love that the acceptance doesn’t come quite as easily to the other characters. In reality, the hard truth is that not everyone does accept trans kids. Russo has no intention of shying away from that.
The subject matter is extremely well handled by Russo. The last thing people need to read is lots of scenes of violence against Amanda. Though Amanda often talks about how she was bullied and beaten, there’s no graphic scenes to do with her attempted suicide or when she was beaten. I think it makes the events seem even more powerful. It’s almost as though the memories are too painful for Amanda to access, which is why she keeps her distance from them.
One thing that should be noted about this book is that a lot of it is quite predictable, aside from a few big twists at the end. I figured out early on why Grant was being distant with Amanda, and the secret Bee and Chloe were hiding. But I don’t feel like this takes anything away from the novel. It’s not what’s important in any case: what matters is the topics it explores.
I did long to get to know some of the characters more. One of the strengths of the book is that it’s a lot more subtle than a lot of teen fiction – not everything is spelled out to you. But I feel in a way this means we don’t get to know the characters well enough. All we really know about Chloe, one of Amanda’s friends, is that she’s gay and she lives on a farm. Since she’s a recurring character, I don’t feel that’s enough to know her the way we should. The best developed characters are Grant and Bee, who are the only characters other than Amanda with really solid backstories. Then my love for Bee was completely destroyed by the ending of the novel (I won’t say way for those who haven’t read it yet.) I think especially since she doesn’t get her comeuppance, that was hard to deal with.
What also irritated me was that Parker and Grant both seem to have an instant crush on Amanda, before even speaking to her. Amanda only says about three words to Parker in the entire novel, and he spends the whole of it fawning after her. In some ways, it presents exactly the kind of person he is – easily jealous, convinced every girl should be falling at his feet, and the kind of boy who probably believes in meninism. However, I did end up liking how quickly Grant and Amanda’s relationship advanced. Of course, there was a very quick attraction, and nowadays it’s very realistic to expect the two of them to start dating very quickly. Most YA novels drag out the chase into a relationship, and then it’s all fireworks and sparkles. I was relieved to find that Grant and Amanda weren’t like that at all, despite them being very cute together.
I finished this book in two sittings, and once I got into the story, it was impossible to put down. I found the start a little slow, but it was definitely worth sticking with. I’ll be looking out for Russo’s future works.