If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
Genre: YA Contemporary| Diversity: trans MC (#OwnVoices!) | My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
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.
I picked up a copy of If I Was Your Girl for Pride Month because, sadly, this is the only #OwnVoices trans book I’ve ever read. Obviously this is something I want to rectify.
Please Note: this review comes from my very specific perspective. I am cisgender and bisexual; no matter how much I would like to be unbiased, these aspects of my identity undoubtably inform my opinions of the story. I absolutely do not want to take away from trans readers/reviewers here. Please, please don’t take my word for it. Seek out trans reviewers for this book (like this long review by trans author Casey Plett). Additionally, there will be some spoilers, in the interest of warning potential readers of what to expect.
bridging the cis/trans gap
If I Was Your Girl is an important book. Not only is it an #OwnVoices book with a trans main character, but it’s a book that manages to bridge a huge portion of the gap between cis and trans readers.
Amanda Hardy just wants to be normal. She wants to blend in while living in a conservative Southern town, and then make her escape to New York City after graduation. Whether you’re trans or not, Amanda’s struggle to fit in is so relatable—it’s human nature to want people to like you for who you are. We get a few poignant flashbacks that show Amanda’s experience growing up decidedly female in a male body. We see her coming to terms with her identity, being beat up for being different, and we learn early on that she attempted suicide at 16. Yet the story doesn’t center around Amanda’s transition or coming to terms with herself; the book centers around her life now. It’s so important for both cis and trans readers to get a story about a trans girl who’s able to be at home in her body, make friends, and even fall in love.
balance between realism & positivity
It’s so important for trans teens to see a story like this one. Amanda is so fortunate, in that she’s able to pass and live a normal life as a girl. There are already so many stories (novels and other media) about trans people struggling for acceptance, and while these stories absolutely need to be told, it was refreshing and heart-warming to watch Amanda make friends with a group of girls and find a boyfriend. At the same time, Russo absolutely acknowledges transphobia and the violence that goes along with it, both in the flashbacks and in the constant fear Amanda has of her secret being discovered.
I appreciated the way the book addresses the idea of being out. Coming out as trans is absolutely not the same as coming out as gay, bi, or queer. Many trans people don’t want people to know that they’re trans—and many cis people (queer or straight) struggle to understand why this is. If I Was Your Girl shows that Amanda can pass. While she does struggle with how to tell her boyfriend, her identity as trans isn’t something she is comfortable with everyone knowing (and for very good reasons). In fact, she proves that it’s not necessary for everyone to know that she was born a boy—because that doesn’t define who she is.
The southern setting works really well here; as someone from the (sort of) South, I can attest that homophobia and transphobia are absolutely as rampant as this book shows. I enjoyed the honest conversation about Christianity as well. Amanda struggles with the idea of a god who hates her for wanting to live as her true self, and ultimately she decides that God does love her the way she is. Again, this is something that’s so important for trans kids (and other queer kids!) to see is possible in this world.
aspects of wish fulfillment
Although Amanda struggles against transphobia, this story revolves more around her falling in love for the first time. It’s adorable to read, especially considering Amanda never thought it would be possible for her to be loved romantically. That being said, the romance story itself is pretty bland; I wouldn’t have enjoyed it at all if it weren’t for the fact that Amanda is trans.
In the author’s note, Russo herself acknowledges the ways she made Amanda’s situation relatively easy: her parents accept her as a girl and enable her to have hormone therapy and surgery (which, by the way, is not cheap). Amanda doesn’t just pass as a girl either: multiple characters constantly opine about how pretty Amanda is. Again, this would have been annoying to read if it were a cis girl.
I don’t want to say that Amanda’s story isn’t realistic, or that it’s not necessary. Trans kids need to see that it’s possible for them to live as their full selves and find friendship, love, and happiness in life. I do think it should be noted that If I Was Your Girl is not The Book About the Trans Experience.
biphobia & forced outing
Even aside from the blandness of the plot and side characters, this book would’ve been an easy 4 to 5 stars for me if it weren’t for the last quarter of the book.
Early on in the story, Amanda develops a friendship with a girl named be. Bee comes out as bisexual, and ultimately Amanda tells Bee that she’s trans. Bee is the only person at school who knows Amanda’s secret. Bee is supposed to be trustworthy because she’s (one of) the only queer kid(s) Amanda knows. Their friendship develops organically and could be super cute—if it weren’t for the fact that Bee becomes the Predatory Bisexual™️.
Turns out, Bee has a crush on Amanda, which is part of why she breaks up with her (closeted) girlfriend Chloe. Of course, Amanda is straight, and when she rejects Bee, things get out of hand pretty quickly. The climax of the story occurs when a drunken Bee publicly outs Amanda—and a bunch of other kids—at the Homecoming dance.
First of all, I’m not a fan of public outing scenes in YA. Yes, these situations happen, unfortunately, but I’d much rather not read them—they give a lot of us anxiety. Folks who are LGBTQIAP+ should absolutely be allowed to come out—or not come out!—on their own terms. For a lot of us, being out is dangerous—especially for trans kids in the South.
Second of all, I hate that the only bisexual character turned out to be the untrustworthy asshole. The “bisexuals are untrustworthy” narrative is tired and harmful. We already get that in real life. Speaking as a (mostly closeted) bisexual, I think we would probably understand Amanda’s choice to not tell everyone in town that she’s trans. On top of that, placing Bee as the antagonist is completely unnecessary.
Early in the book, we’re introduced to Parker, Grant’s bff who’s a total bigot. As the story drew to a close, I found myself wondering: why couldn’t Parker have been the one to forcibly out Amanda (assuming that her being forcibly outed as a narrative necessity at all)? Why did it have to be the openly bisexual girl? Why do we keep seeing narratives of (even just coded) bisexuals as predatory?
I know that If I Was Your Girl wasn’t written for me. It was written for all the precious baby trans kids out there who deserve to see themselves represented. I don’t want to take away from that at all. At the same time, I didn’t appreciate the way the storyline ended up, as a bisexual reader.
If I Was Your Girl is an important book, in that it does wonders to bridge the gap between cis and trans readers, as well as giving trans kids a positive portrayal of their experiences. That being said, I don’t think this should be The Trans YA. I hope that in future years, we get to see more nuances in trans portrayal so that this isn’t the only #OwnVoices trans YA.
Have you read If I Was Your Girl or similar books with trans MCs? Let me know what you think in the comments!