Personal · YA Book Reviews

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

I’m apologizing in advance for how all over the place this review is; it’s been a hard few days for me after the Orlando shooting, and reading this was such a positive emotional experience, so everything I say here is completely from the heart. On a side note, the woman on the cover of the book is Kira Conley, a 21-year-old model and trans woman from Arizona who publicly talked about her career and transition in the July 2015 issue of Women’s Wear Daily. I linked the article in her name. The author Meredith Russo is also a trans woman who lives in Tennessee with her two children.

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.

This is a book for transgender people, written by a trans woman. I have never seen anything that tackles what it is like to be trans so realistically with so much truth and love, and I have Meredith Russo to thank profusely for bringing this story to light. As a trans woman, she is the best person to tell this story of a young trans girl coming to terms with who she is and embracing it with courage and confidence. As a protagonist, Amanda shows us throughout the story that courage is not the absence of fear, and by the end of the story, she is ready to face all of her fears head-on.

Many of the hot-button issues and stereotypes within the LGBTQ community are addressed in this book: homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia, especially in the South; suicide, both attempted and completed; mental illness, such as major depressive disorder and panic disorder, as well as medication and therapy for mental health; the bathroom issue; rape; drugs & alcohol; “passing”; coming out to your parents; divorce; Christianity/religion and the queer community. Part of what makes this book resonate with the community is how accurately it portrays all of these issues: Amanda’s suicide attempt (and a different character’s suicide) illustrate the risk transgender people (notably trans youth) face after being confronted with harassment or being ostracized at school and in the workplace. The Washington Post shared statistics last year that show, “41 percent of transgender people surveyed in Injustice at Every Turn said they had attempted suicide, compared with 1.6 percent of the general population. Risk increased for those who reported bullying, sexual assault and job loss. Analysis [in 2015] by the Williams Institute found 78 percent of transgender respondents who had endured physical or sexual violence at school had attempted suicide.” The fact that Amanda was forced to leave Atlanta after being physically assaulted in the restroom is also a depressing reality for the transgender community, especially trans women: GLAAD states on their website, “According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 55% of all reported LGBT homicide victims were transgender women, and 50% were transgender women of color. Furthermore, in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 78% transgender/gender non-conforming students in grades K-12 experienced harassment, while 35% experienced physical assault and 12% experienced sexual violence.” Amanda’s story mirrors the truth of everyday interactions for transgender people, whether they are trans women, trans men, genderqueer, nonbinary, or gender non-conforming in any way.

Amanda’s story is remarkably positive throughout the book – she doesn’t have to worry about passing (looking like a woman), she has always felt like a woman, she is accepted by her parents, she was able to afford hormone treatment and gender reassignment surgery, and her friends (even the heavy Christian background one) all treat her right and are willing to educate themselves. Unfortunately, this is not something that all or even most transgender people are met with in reality, and while I loved this book with all my heart, I can’t pretend that this proves everything will be okay. If anything, it shows we have so much farther to go. I personally identify as agender, and use they/them pronouns amongst my family and friends. It’s been an arduous coming-out process as #1. Not many people know what it means to be agender & #2. I don’t want to get any kind of surgery or take hormones, so it’s difficult to “pass” as anything but a woman because I’m not trying to look like the opposite sex. (For you guys: It means I don’t identify with any gender. I don’t feel like a woman, but I don’t feel like a man either, and I don’t want to transition, so…yeah! No gender for me.)

It’s scary to be out and queer right now. In light of the recent massacre in Orlando, I didn’t think I was ready to read this, because I am still in mourning over my brothers and sisters who were taken from this world too soon. I’m glad I read it anyway. If you are also in mourning, this is a story that shows things working out. This is for people who need something to feel other than fear, or emptiness. This is for me, and this is for you. Thank you.

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