Book Review: IF I WAS YOUR GIRL by Meredith Russo

   
 

 
 

FACTS ABOUT THE BOOK

 
Title: If I Was Your Girl
Author: Meredith Russo
Publisher: Usborne
Price: £7.99
Pages: 293
Genre: Young Adult, Trans*
Year: 2016
 

 

BACK OF THE BOOK

   
 

 
 

WHAT IS IT ABOUT?

This book is about 18-years old Amanda who is a trans girl. The book focuses on Amanda's present life in which she moves to her dad - whom she hasn't seen in a long time - and starts to go to a new school there. Amanda wants to start over in this new town where nobody knows about her being transsexual. It doesn't take her long to make new friends and get attention from some boys but her "secret" past is always on her mind. The book also shows flashbacks from Amanda's past - back to when she was named Andrew and was legally a boy. This book is a story about a trans girl falling in love with a boy and about her journey to accepting herself.
 
 
 

MY OPINION ON IT

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT IT

 
This book managed to catch me right from the start because it is written in a way that makes it very easy to quickly dive into the story. I was very interested in reading about a trans character since I have never read a book with a main trans character before. The beautiful writing allowed me as a reader to have a deep connection with Amanda, the protagonist. I also read certain passages more times to fully grasp their meanings.
 
As the reader I felt challenged to face my own prejudices and issues with trans people through this book: I reflected myself and found it interesting that I had some troubles with imagining Amanda in the flashbacks. She had always felt like a girl and therefore had always been a girl inside, but I struggled with how I imagined her physical appearance in the flashbacks in contrast to the present chapters. I think it is important to face these issues and be open for changing the own mind when reading about something that others know a lot more about than you yourself do. That's why I really wanted to get challenged by the book and dig deep in my own mind to sort out possible issues and prejudices I may still have concerning trans people. Dealing with what you don't know much about is always the better way than just rejecting it.
Long story short, I really liked the book for helping me understand trans people and trans issues better.
 
 
I really liked that the book didn't just focus on the main character and her love interest but also developed some other minor characters in the story. Amanda's new friend Bee seemed incredibly unique and interesting right from the start and when she admitted her "secret" to Amanda, I loved her even more. Although I also found it nice that Amanda had a group of other friends, I always cheered for the chapters in which Bee appeared. Amanda and Bee's conversations seemed to happen on such a different level and were quite deep sometimes. Their bond felt very special to me.
 
 
The amount of queer people in this story was amazing: There are two trans characters and several others get mentioned and there are a lesbian and a bisexual character. If you get into a story only expecting the main character to be trans and then end up with all these rainbow guys ...  - I was really happy about that. :)
 
 
What I also found interesting was the depiction of strict religious characters and how they slightly collided with queer characters - I just have never read much about religious characters before and so that felt new to me. And it also was new to me to read about a very poor character. I found it good to get confronted with new character "lifestyles" because it is always important to expand the own horizon.
 
I enjoyed that the chapters changed between present and flashback chapters. The flashbacks added much more depth to the story while the present chapters made the story move forwards. They played quite nicely together at first and also in the end.
 
Broadly, this is actually not too different from any other Young Adult book: girl falls in love with a boy but struggles to open up about her tragic past to him and discovers midway that he also has some "secret" thing to deal with on his own.
And I am actually quite done with the YA genre at the moment because it just seems to be the same plot every time. This book felt different though because her being trans did play a big role in the book which made it different and made the known plot feel fresher. And extremely insecure behaviour from the girl side, which was also the case in this book, didn't bother me that much because it felt very reasonable and realistic.
 
 
I really loved the geeky references in this book, which mostly concerened STAR WARS. Since I am a huge STAR WARS fan myself, I just enjoyed that very much. I also liked how there weren't just references of the movies in the book but that the author managed to wove STAR WARS more importantly into the storyline. One scene in particular concerning that aspect gave the book a huge plus for me.
 
There are two notes from the author, who is herself a trans woman, at the end of the book and these moved me so much. The author wrote two notes: one to her cisgender readers (cis = not trans, born in the right body) and one to her transgender readers. Especially the one to her trans readers is so important that I want to post it here aswell: (It does not include any spoilers)
 
   
 

 
The end message, both from the book and from the notes of the author are so important and put the importance of accepting yourself clearly in the foreground. I found it important that that fact was highlighted more than the romance in the end.
 
I also very much want to stress the father-daughter relationship in this novel. The story took its time with that and made it feel very raw and real therefore. The scenes between Amanda and her father were really beautifully written.
 
 
 
 
 

WHAT I DID NOT LIKE ABOUT IT

 
Unforunately, the flashback chapters fell flat in the middle of the book and made the book focus entirely on the present therefore. The present story felt quite light and like a typical YA romance and too flat without the flashbacks that added depth to it. I found that sad because that change had made the book so thrilling to me and the flashbacks had had quite an impact on me. So I wished the book would have continued the change between present and past chapter throughout the whole of it.
 
 
The notes at the end made me realise that this story had been fictionalised in many ways and that it was the stereotypical trans story and lacked diversity. It's funny because I didn't even realise that while reading the story; but when the author said in her note to cisgendered readers that she had wanted to make it easier for cis people to bond with Amanda and therefore had made her a "perfect" trans, I felt disappointed. The fact that this book is written by a trans author and that that author had still felt the need to make her trans character fit as perfectly as possible into the white straight cis forms felt sad to me. I want to read a book about a more diverse trans character now. I don't want to get carefully introduced to the subject so that I might not be offended by it but I want to read about real trans people who deal with real issues. Since I am cis and not trans and since I don't know any trans person, I cannot say if this book has been a realistic portrayal of trans people in any way. Just the way in which the author herself admitted to having fictionalised the main character into acceptable forms made me yearn for a real depiction. In that way the author's note felt realer and rawer than the whole book before did feel then in retroperspective.
It's a bit unfortunate that the author did sort of make the book worse for me with her note, but I think it is more important to know that this hasn't been a real depiction of trans people than to be ignorant to that aspect just to enjoy the story more.
 
I was rather sad about the way in which the book turned a certain good character into a bad one. It hurt to see that character become so awful.

The lovestory started to bother me a bit more in the end. I felt like what one character in the book said was true: that Amanda restriced herself to being boring just to meet her also boring love interest halfway. That perception made the lovestory feel a bit lame and just like every other to me. I was very glad that their were also other subjects in the story than just that lovestory. Although Amanda is already 18 and turns 19 in this story, I still felt like the lovestory was just another high school romance that would eventually fade away. It didn't seem as though Amanda had found her soulmate or something. I felt like that was rather the case with Bee, her friend. The book highlighted not often enough that that romance wasn't actually the most important thing in the story.
 
Something that didn't bother me but that I just didn't understand was why Amanda even moved away from her mother and to her father. She hadn't spoken to her dad in years but seemed to have a loving relationship with her mother. So I didn't quite get that. Amanda also seemed to not care much about her mother throughout the whole book, which is why I was then surprised whenever a loving scene between these two came up. I assume that Amanda mostly wanted to get away from her old town but I felt like that reason wasn't stressed enough.
 
   
 


 

CONCLUSION

I really enjoyed reading this book. It was beautifully written and very easy to quickly read through. It forced me to reflect on my own perception of trans people, which I found important. The book never felt boring but always interesting, mostly because of the main character being trans. "If I Was Your Girl" helped to understand trans people and trans issues better. I would just like to read a book about a more diverse trans character than Amanda. And there could have been even more depth to the story if the book had kept its balance between present and past chapters, which it lost in the middle.
 
 
 
 

MY RATING

I award this book with 4 out of 5 stars.

 

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