TITLE: If I Was Your Girl
AUTHOR: Meredith Russo
PUBLISHER: Flatiron Books
RELEASE DATE: May 3, 2016
GENRE: Young Adult Fiction, LGBTQIA
PAGE COUNT: 280
If I Was Your Girl is a high school romance from the perspective of a transgender girl. While the writing and plot are forgettable, this novel is necessary because it gives young adult readers of any and all gender identities the chance to read trans experiences in relatable contexts. Besides the universal struggles of fitting in and finding true friends, If I Was Your Girl portrays a trans girl being the subject of romantic attention—going a long way to affirm that trans teens are equally deserving of prom proposals and a magical first kiss.
Amanda Hardy was born Andrew. After her suicide attempt, she comes out to her family and begins her MTF transition. However, transitioning results in even more brutal bullying. Forced for her own safety to pull out of school, she leaves Atlanta to move in with her estranged father in Lambertville, Tennessee. When a member of the football team starts to fall for her, she must consider the dangers of letting a boy into her heart, knowing that she is only safe so long as she keeps the past a secret.
I thought about how every person could hold two truths inside of them, and how impossible it felt sometimes to have your insides and outsides aligned – page 180
Amanda’s character arc is driven by her need for acceptance. Although she feels bad for concealing her past from her new friends, she is terrified of being a hate crime target. At first, acceptance means fitting in. Eventually however, acceptance turns out to be something much more powerful: building respectful and supportive friendships that will stand the test of time. Other universal themes include finding the courage to be different, forming friendships that will provide support during the crises of new adulthood, and navigating a romantic relationship and sexual boundaries for the first time.
Everybody’s too afraid of going to hell or getting made fun of to be honest about what they want and who they are, so they can’t even really admit what they want to themselves – page 164
If I Was Your Girl is a good starting place for first time readers of trans fiction. Amanda’s journey gives Russo the opportunity to touch upon many issues and attitudes surrounding present-day trans experiences. However, I encourage you to read the author’s note before the novel. Meredith Russo—a trans woman—makes it clear that Amanda’s story cannot represent the experiences of all trans teens. In fact, Amanda has it easy compared to the statistic average: she is privileged to access hormone therapy and “bottom” surgery very early, she has an accepting family, and she has no difficulty “passing” as a conventionally attractive young woman. Russo encourages us to consider the diversity of trans experiences, and not take any one portrayal as gospel. For the sake of being accessible to younger teens and inspiring empathy without digging up much heavy stuff, If I Was Your Girl is mostly a light read.
I decided that the people who had said God didn’t love me, who said that I didn’t have a place on Earth – they were wrong. God wanted me to live, and this was the only way I knew how to survive, so this was what God wanted. This was what I wanted. I had chosen to live, and it seemed like, finally, I was doing just that – page 89
To grossly oversimplify it, If I Was Your Girl is a romance about a teen falling for the sensitive guy and being accepted for who she is. This may not sound particularly groundbreaking. But consider how many romance narratives represent cisgender females. If I want to see a romance that represents my cisgender identity, I can walk into any bookstore, library, or cinema and have my pick, even down to the age and nationality of the protagonists. Cisgender girls can also pick from an ever-increasing wealth of lesbian/bi romances. At this time, If I Was Your Girl is revolutionary in its portrayal of a romance featuring a trans girl. It represents trans girls as valid members of everyday society, and strives to affirm their worth and humanity.
On the Downside…
While I stand firm that If I Was Your Girl has important themes and representation, the characters and plot are underdeveloped. While it speaks to the specific struggles of older teens, the story is unfortunately too predictable to engross mature readers. The characters, including Amanda, are archetypes who didn’t inspire my emotional investment. Personally, I only felt strongly for Amanda when horrible events made me imagine myself in her position. Otherwise, none of the characters were developed realistically enough to captivate me. Similarly, the romance plot feels manufactured.
If I Was Your Girl tells a trans teen’s story in a high school context that most YA readers will relate to. Although the writing and plot are underdeveloped, I hope that this book will inspire readers to learn more and consider LGBTQIA members within their communities with empathy. I love that this book promotes representation of trans people in romance narratives.