This review and summary of If I Was Your Girl by author Meredith Russo was adapted from two previous posts. First is the spoiler free review, follwed by the spoilers and summary.
Spoiler Free Review
If I Was Your Girl is a simple YA story about a young girl who moves to a new school and faces all the traditional perils of high school. She needs to make new friends, figure out who she can trust, figure out who she is and wants to be, and figure out how to date a teenage boy when her dad doesn’t fully approve.
The only difference between Amanda and any of the other girls at her new school is that Amanda was born Andrew. As the author put it in her note at the end of the book, Amanda is just an ordinary girl who happens to have a different medical history. Unfortunately, that is not the view that most people in a small town in the southern US would take if they were to discover her secret.
Amanda knows that in order to stay safe she needs to keep her secret. She wants to just live her life as the girl she’s always felt she’s been. She struggles with whether or not she should ever disclose her history to her new friends and what that means for her identity as a whole, to be a secret many would consider shameful.
The basic plot of this young adult novel is simple and predictable. The entire book I knew exactly what was going to happen and it fell pretty much in line the whole way. But while that is usually a negative this book uses tropes and cliches for a much grander purpose.
Since we can see Amanda as any high school girl in any high school romance coming of age story we can see Amanda as just that, any girl. The book’s largest success is that it makes the protagonist approachable, sympathetic, and likable without ever shying away from the fact that she is trans.
If I Was Your Girl is not going to wow you with an unpredictable story line or ground breaking style but it will give you a trans character to relate to. It’s a wonderful introduction into LGBTQ literature and would be a great place to start for people who may not have many LGBTQ connections in their own lives. For people like the ones in this story, who have never met anyone unlike them, this tale is an easy pill to swallow.
It’s also incredibly optimistic and definitely has the best case scenario ending but I think that works for the purpose of this book. It shows that even the most ignorant or previously prejudiced people can find a tiny shred of compassion. A window just big enough to let some willingness to attempt understanding through.
Russo is never preachy, she never tries to shove new ideals down your throat, and she never directly references any real controversies. She just lays out a solid story about a young girl dealing with a difficult community she doesn’t quite fit in with. It’s engaging and uplifting.
I would definitely recommend this as a place to start with LGBTQ books and just for anyone who likes YA romances. Reading it I realized that I’ve read an appallingly low number of these books myself and should really start seeking out more LGBTQIA etc characters to read about. Exposure goes a long way toward understanding. And even for myself, a bisexual woman who has known several trans individuals personally, I still feel underexposed to their experiences.
This book has literally been sitting on my kindle for years and I’m disappointed that it took me this long to get to it, don’t let the same thing happen to you!
Please support this one and please recommend similar readings to me in the comments!
If I Was Your Girl Summary
This book has trigger warnings for suicide, assault, rape, and the general trauma of being a high school kid in America.
If I Was Your Girl starts with our young protagonist, Amanda, moving to a new town to live with her dad and attend a new school. She’s moving because back in her old town she transitioned from being a male named Andrew and the hateful southerners did not take kindly to that.
We find out that after she became Amanda she attempted to commit suicide and after she began transitioning she was beaten up in a public restroom and her divorced parents decided the best thing to do would be for her to start fresh somewhere where no one knew her as Andrew.
I’m sorry, I just have to mention this one thing and it’s a bad joke but I couldn’t get it out of my mind this whole book. Now, when I was a young girl named Amanda other kids would mock me by saying that I was “A man, duh!” implying that I was not a girl but a boy. Did the author name her trans hero Amanda knowing this? It seems… on the nose… regardless, the way kids tease you just kind of sticks around forever doesn’t it?
Anyway, Amanda moves to her new school and is immediately welcomed by a group of girl friends as well as ogled by the hormonal boys. Amanda has the blessing of having transitioned before puberty fully took hold so she is quite feminine in every traditional sense of the word.
The author addresses this early transition in her notes at the end of the book. It was something that bothered me throughout, that she was given hormones and surgeries so young, but Russo wanted to play with the legality and likelihood of that in order to make Amanda as passably female as possible. Taking these liberties feels reasonable to me in order to make her an inoffensive relatable character to any and all readers.
Shortly after arriving at her new school a boy named Grant approaches her on behalf of a boy named Parker who has a crush on her. She declines any advance knowing that it would only cause trouble and that her dad would strongly disapprove. The problem is that now she can’t stop thinking about Grant and his crooked smile.
Amanda gets invited to a party, there she meets up with Grant and they immediately hit it off. They break away from the party where he confesses that he former best friend had committed suicide. They go swimming in their underwear and kiss briefly. When Amanda gets home her drunk father confesses he loves her. The first time he’s said it maybe ever.
The next morning Amanda’s new friend Anna calls her and begs her to attend church with her family. Everybody in this town is religious to some degree but Anna’s family is the typical shove it down your throat old testament kind of religious that the southern and midwestern US is proud of and the rest of the US is ashamed of being associated with.
Basically, her family shows up with a van complete with bumper stickers stating their strong anti-homosexuality stance and Amanda rightfully feels uncomfortable.
She decides to just lay low and try to keep her secrets away from Anna but doesn’t want to cause waves with the rest of the friend group. She’s met some more progressive people at the school that she can feel more comfortable with. For instance, Bee, the girl who she hangs out with last period of the day.
While Amanda navigates all of these relationships her one with Grant grows stronger. They are now officially dating! But Amanda has some pretty big issues with self confidence and is concerned that he might be gay and only likes the boyish things about her left over from being raised as Andrew.
Pushing aside her concerns she has Grant over to her dad’s house while he’s gone but of course he comes home early and catches him. They weren’t fooling around or anything unseemly but her dad takes it hard enough to start drinking after he kicks him out.
Her dad confesses his very justified fear that if these Christians or southern teenage boys find out that she is trans they will kill her. He just wants her to stay safe long enough to graduate high school and move somewhere more accepting. I’m with him on this one. She is in danger. You can complain all you want about how that isn’t right and shouldn’t be, and you’d be right, but it’s still a very real fear today.
Grant wants to open up to Amanda and let her into his life so he brings her home to his small trailer that houses himself, his mom, and his sisters. Grant has to work a job after school to provide for them and Amanda sees him as a hard working, loyal, loving, family man and starts to really fall for him.
If I Was Your Girl does a good job of utilizing stereotypes. We know that this family is not going to be so welcoming to a trans girl if they were to find out about her past. And we’re proven right at the end. I knew what to expect from people in this book because the author set it up that way. She uses stereotypes to her advantage instead of falling into them as a trap.
Amanda and Grant then go to a Halloween party where their Star Wars themed costumes both have masks that cover their faces. Their conversation prompts them to switch costumes and walk in the shoes of the opposite gender for a minute. Grant gets hit on and Amanda finds out that Grant’s friends participate in some “locker room talk” about her and whether or not Grant is going to get laid.
This unusual scenario does bring them even closer and they’re well on the path to love city.
Amanda is also starting to feel more comfortable with her friend Bee who has admitted that she is bisexual. This allows Amanda to feel less guarded and she confesses that she is trans. Bee takes it quite well and promises not to tell anyone. Of course this will come back.
She is really still unsure of whether or not she should tell Grant about her history, especially since they’ve had a few moments of kissing leading toward sex. She writes everything down in a letter and gives it to Grant explaining that it’s all her secrets. He burns it without reading it and promises to love her no matter what.
At school Grant asks Amanda to the homecoming dance in a very elaborate and public way. She of course says yes. Then she has an awkward encounter with Parker, the boy from the beginning of the book that liked Amanda initially and is the reason that Grant went to talk with her in the first place. He asks her why she didn’t go for him instead. She doesn’t have a satisfactory answer. Sometimes you just don’t feel it, right?
The homecoming dance is where everything gets lifted to the peak and then comes crashing down. Amanda steps out to find Bee in the bathroom. A very drunk Bee tells Amanda that she has a crush on her and they should be together instead of her and Grant. Amanda turns her down and is rushed out to be crowned homecoming queen alongside her king Grant.
As she is getting the crown placed on her head Bee storms the stage to air out everybody’s dirty laundry. She tells everyone about who’s had an abortion, who’s secretly gay, and most importantly that Amanda was born male.
Grant is understandably shocked and confused. Amanda flees before he can say anything concrete but the gist is that their relationship is over. As she’s attempting to walk home Parker pulls up next to her on the side of the road. Smartly, she declines to get in his car but he chases her into the woods.
He attempts to rape her. She is rescued by her pack of girl friends, one of whom has a gun. (‘Merica!) They take her home and her very worried dad, who has by now already heard the small town news that her secret is out, sees her dirty and injured and rushes out to kill the boyfriend.
Amanda races to her friend’s car so they can save Grant. Dad shows up at Grant’s trailer and punches him in the face before Amanda can say it wasn’t him. Grant’s mom threatens them with a gun and tells them to leave immediately.
On the drive home Dad is hysterical and demands that Amanda leave town, he can’t protect her if she doesn’t want to protect herself.
She moves back to her Mom’s house and has no idea what she’ll do next. It’s Thanksgiving and Dad shows up for dinner. Amanda offers to go for a walk to talk things out and they go to the park and play catch just like her dad always wanted from her when she was younger and he wanted her to be the typical son.
This scene is incredibly sweet. A perfect way to close the father/son relationship and leave room for a father/daughter one instead.
They decide that if she thinks she can brave it she can move back and keep going to school where she’s been outed. When she arrives at the school again her girl friends welcome her. Even hyper religious Anna is willing to “hate the sin, forgive the sinner.”
She meets up with Grant and the book closes with him sitting down to hear her story and give her a chance.
Admittedly, this is a highly optimistic outcome for this story. It really is the best case scenario but I liked that it was so positive. It is nice to have hope instead of pessimism sometimes.
The entirety of the book was predictable and the plot was formulaic. But this works to give the reader a trans character that they can be comfortable with. This is the perfect book for introducing trans characters to someone who may have zero experience with them in fiction or reality.
In that sense it is a very important book. It may not be revolutionary in its style or story but it is necessary. A good bridge for people who are taking that first small step outside of their comfort zone.
If I Was Your Girl should be recommended to anybody and everybody who needs an introduction into LGBTQ literature and is a good read for anybody who just likes YA romance stories.
Please tell your families about this one and then give me some recommendations for what intermediate LGBTQ literature would be!
4/5 girls 👩👩👩👩
For more LGBTQ YA Lit check out Camp.
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