Book review: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

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“For as long as I could remember, I had been apologizing for existing, for trying to be who I was, to live the life I was meant to lead.”

I have been trying for about thirty minutes to come up with an adequate summary of this book.  A summary that doesn’t belittle the subject matter or leave out any important details. A summary that doesn’t reveal any spoilers. I’m at a loss, honestly, so here is the official blurb:

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.

So first things first, I think I need to start with a little disclaimer.  I am a straight cisgender female.  I understand and fully acknowledge that I cannot relate to Amanda’s struggles.  This book was not written for me, and that is completely okay.


Now, onto some rants, which you are fully welcome to skip–

In case you hadn’t realized, the year is 2017 and for some reason, trans people are still an issue.  I work in a medical practice, and we have trans patients. (Not many, but some.) Is this is a big deal? No. Do people make it a big deal? Yes. My boss, in fact, will often strike up a conversation about famous trans people just to get a rise out of me.  She thinks it’s funny when I get angry about this. She doesn’t care one bit about whether the patients overhear.  Small children can understand people wanting to be referred to differently, but this forty-year-old woman can’t.

Personally, I don’t understand this, since someone else’s gender has literally no bearing on my life, but we evidently live in a time in which politicians think it’s a-okay to make laws about who can use what bathroom under the guise of “women’s safety.”  Now, I don’t mean to get all political on this blog (although I kind of do), but I am much more comfortable with the idea of peeing next to a trans woman than I am with the idea of peeing next to somebody who feels like it’s their place to dictate what someone else does with their own genitalia.


Anyway, on to my review.

The main criticism I’ve seen of this book is that it’s too easy. That Amanda never really struggles.  Her mother accepts her immediately. Her father, though a little more reluctant, makes an effort. She’s given easy access to hormones and surgery despite her (seemingly) lower-middle-class upbringing. She’s into stereotypically girly things like makeup and pretty dresses. She easily passes as a woman and not one of her new classmates suspects that she’s trans. Upon walking into a new school, she instantly has two football players hitting on her and four girls clamoring to be her new best friends. The criticism, it seems, is that Russo should have written a more honest book.

I have a lot to say on this matter.

First, imagine Amanda is not trans. Imagine she’s your average female YA protagonist starting at a new school. Would you be all up in arms that two boys thought she’s cute?  Would you think it’s weird that a bunch of girls accepted her into their inner circle?  No, you would think it’s just any other YA book.  So why does this have to be different?

Second, I don’t see why a book featuring a trans character must immediately be heartbreaking. There are enough sad stories on the news. This is not an exposé. It’s not a list of every awful event that has ever happened. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’ve come to the wrong place.  This is a book that brings awareness to a group that is very rarely shown in literature, especially young adult literature.

I have been thinking and thinking and thinking since I finished this book and I have been unable to come up with any book I’ve ever read that’s featured a trans protagonist. (I should probably put a disclaimer here though that I have read a ton of books in my life, and it’s entirely possible that I have read such a book and just forgotten about it.)

I do recall that Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters features a trans character, but she’s not the protagonist, and also, I read that book 10+ years ago, so I’m not sure if it even counts anymore.  My point here is that it’s really uncommon for a book, especially a young adult book, to feature trans characters, so I think it is wonderful that this book even exists, let alone that Amanda is such an accessible character.

Because even though this book might not be “honest,” all of the characters felt so real. I feel like I could wander into the nearest high school and find these people.  And sure, maybe Grant was a little too good to be true.  (Many YA love interests are.)  Maybe it’s a little unrealistic that Amanda could immediately find a group of four girls willing to take her on shopping sprees and teach her about sports bras and defend her to the death, but I just keep coming back to my point that it’s absolutely irrelevant.  Because this happens in so many young adult novels. It’s not exclusive to this one, and to insinuate that this book can’t use the same tropes as a young adult novel featuring a cis protagonist is ridiculous.

Before I get on to my next point, I just want to give a warning to any readers that might be sensitive to it: Throughout her life, Amanda is subjected to an awful lot of bullying, including being attacked in a bathroom. Prior to her move to Lambertville, she attempts suicide using her mother’s prescription pain medication. I feel like it’s important to mention this not only for people who may want to avoid these triggers in the books they read but also because it explains the undercurrent of anxiety that runs through the book. Amanda’s life in Lambertville might be pretty good, but she’s always prepared for the fallout. She’s always ready for someone to be just around the corner, poised to attack. She knows that peace and quiet never lasts.

I had my expectations about what would happen. I thought maybe Grant would find out and make a scene. Or Parker, Grant’s friend that Amanda rejects at the beginning of the book, would find someone from her hometown to tell the entire school her secret. I try to maintain spoiler-free reviews at all times, so I can’t comment on what finally happens, but it was not what I expected. It was also not unbelievable. Another credit to the author for not taking the easy road, but also not randomly throwing a wrench in the plot.

I almost wanted this book to be longer.  I definitely wished for a more concrete ending. But then I thought about it, and I decided that I’m okay with the book being short and I’m okay with the ending. I think it’s better to hold out hope that everything turned out well for Amanda.  As a rule, I generally despise open endings, but I’m not convinced that a nice tidy ending with a pretty bow would have been any better in this book. So while I might have wanted to see the entire town simply accept Amanda as she is as she and Grant run off to New York together to start a new life together, I’m sure this would have brought even more criticism and even more cries of “impossible” or “unrealistic” or “dishonest.”

I just loved this book so much. I can hardly believe it was a debut, and I am so impressed with the way Meredith Russo was able to touch my heart. I will absolutely keep an eye out for her future work. I hope that she continues to write books like this one.

As a side note, I would ask you to read the author’s note at the end of the book. I often skip over these, but for some reason, I was compelled to read this one. It is so, so important and explains a lot of the criticisms people have had with the book.

Final rating: ★★★★★

#mmdreading: a book by an #ownvoices or #diversebooks author

Book review: Sula by Toni Morrison

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Being good to somebody is just like being mean to somebody. Risky. You don’t get nothing for it.

It’s the early 20th century in The Bottom, and Nel and Sula are the best friends that have ever lived. They’ve grown up together, sharing all the same experiences, until Sula decides to head off to college while Nel decides to stay in The Bottom and start a family.  The two women reunite later in life, only to suffer a great betrayal due to Sula’s lack of understanding even the most basic of human decency.

I know that – objectively speaking – this book is very well-written.  I know that Morrison has a way with words that many authors can only hope to imitate.  I know that her books are American classics.  (I also know that she used to live a mere 1.2 miles from where I currently live, and that made me want to like her writing even more.)  But this book didn’t make me feel anything aside from mild discomfort.

Sula feels like a book you’d read in a college lit class, followed by an in-depth analysis of the imagery and actions of the characters.  It doesn’t feel like the kind of book you read as you wait to eat a holiday dinner with your boyfriend’s parents.  Unfortunately, that’s the exact context in which I finished this book, and that might contribute to me feeling less than thrilled with it.

While the plot is certainly interesting, the characters (particularly Sula) were so awful that I just didn’t want to read anything more about the horrors in their lives.  A surprising amount of terrible things happen in the 175 pages of this book, some of which I’m sure will stick with me for years to come.

And, as a feminist, I really want to understand Sula.  I really want to know just what she got out of sleeping with nearly every married man in town.  I want to find some point to it other than her being a generally horrible person.  And I can’t.  Because even Sula doesn’t have a good reason for it.  It makes her feel bad, so she does it?

I’ve read a lot of review of this book, both positive and negative, trying to really understand what I was supposed to get out of it.  I’m still not really sure.  So I’ve given it three stars, mostly for the writing, since the plot seems to have gone over my head.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

Book review: Infini by Krista & Becca Ritchie

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My name is Luka Kotova. I’m an irresponsible fuck-up. Thanks for your time. Now let me be.

Luka Kotova is a high-risk acrobat in Aerial Ethereal’s Viva.  Baylee Wright is a talented juggler in Aerial Ethereal’s Infini.  The two were inseparable friends when they were children, and a romance blossomed as they grew older. Unfortunately, they were torn apart by circumstances out of their control, and while they haven’t spoken in years, they’ve never forgotten about each other either.  Now that Luka has been transferred from Viva to Infini, they’re reunited, and they can hardly keep their feelings under control.

If you’re a fan of Krista & Becca Ritchie, you’ll no doubt recognize Aerial Ethereal as the setting for Amour Amour.  Although Infini can technically be read as a standalone, I would highly recommend reading Amour Amour first so that you can understand the full impact of everything that happens.  Luka is the brother of Nikolai, Amour Amour’s protagonist, and many side characters from that book pop up throughout Infini, and some play fairly major roles.

So, I basically read this entire book in one day as I was home sick from work.  It was really the ideal distraction from how disgusting I felt because Krista & Becca always create these engaging worlds that you just can’t step away from.  You just have to keep reading. It seemed like I had just started it and then I was at the 80% mark.  This book is 465 pages, and I flew through it in a few hours.

The verdict?  Luka Kotova has won my heart.  I don’t know what it is with these authors.  They create such beautifully flawed characters with such good hearts that you can’t help but love.  I mean, Luka’s got his issues, but I never for a second doubted that he was a good person.

And don’t get me wrong – Baylee is a great character, too.

But LUKA. Ugh.  I just wanted to reach through the pages and give him a hug.  The guy has been through so much in his life and he is still so loving and caring and nurturing toward his siblings.  I know he’s a fictional character, but I hope he’s happy.

The whole Kotova family, actually, is just great.  Even Kotovas that you think you won’t necessarily like turn out to be wonderful people.  I love how much they care about each other.  How much they rely on each other and help each other through whatever happens.  There’s just no question.  If something happens, you just know that you’ll have this big group of Kotovas there, rooting for you.

Speaking of side Kotovas, can I put in a formal request for Katya to get her own book and to finally find some happiness?  And also for Camila and Dimitri to get their own book, because clearly they are meant to be.  Also, if I can continue to make unsolicited suggestions, can we just see more of Timo and John being cute? Please and thank you!

If you’re a fan of Krista & Becca’s other series (Addicted/Calloway Sisters), you’ll be thrilled to know that those characters are alive and well in this book. There are shout outs to Calloway Couture, Superheroes and Scones, Fizz and Ziff, and even the villainous Scott Van Wright!

And speaking of Scott Van Wright, I saw an early review that compared him to Geoffrey, Infini’s choreographer.  I mean, sure, Geoffrey is a jerk, but I thought there could be no possible way that he’d be worse than that manipulative backstabbing pedophile, but then there was –no spoilers– that scene with all of the Kotova guys protecting Luka from him, and my heart just shattered into a million pieces because WHO GAVE HIM THE RIGHT.  I am still crying over that scene.  I honestly forgot how good Krista & Becca are at breaking my heart.

I guess I’m just going to end this by saying that I loved this book.  I loved Luka’s (parentheticals), like even though we were in his head, there were things he wasn’t sure he wanted to share. I’ve never seen that done in a book before, and I was really impressed with how it made me feel like I knew him better.

When I initially finished this book, I thought, oh that was good, I’ll give it a 4.5. But you know what? This book deserves more than a 4.5.  It deserves all the stars, so I have to give it a full five.

Final rating: ★★★★★

#mmdreading: a book with a reputation for being un-put-down-able

Book review: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

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What would happen if the world were so far gone that violence actually bred violence? If killing someone literally created a monster? Would you put your faith in a man who enslaves these monsters, or the one who tries to keep the peace?

August Flynn is a Sunai, a monster created from the worst of catastrophes. Taken in by the peacekeeping Flynn family and raised as much like a human child as possible, August wants nothing more than to actually be human. Constantly fighting his nature, constantly trying to keep himself from taking yet another soul, despite the fact that he needs to feed in order to live, August was a heartbreaking character.

Kate Harker is something of a legend. Her father controls the worst of the monsters, and as such, tries to keep her out of the way. She’s been kicked out of countless boarding schools for such ruthless acts as setting fire to a chapel. She’s not afraid of anything, especially not her father’s monsters, or so she’d have you think.

When Harker’s carefully controlled monsters begin to revolt, August and Kate team up to keep one another safe. The plot is pretty standard-issue young adult dystopia, but it differs from the norm in that there is absolutely zero romantic connection between August and Kate. A wary friendship, maybe, but certainly no pesky feelings.

The book definitely feels like the first in a series. It took awhile to find its footing, but once it did, I was just as invested as I’ve been in any of Schwab’s work. Similarly, Kate took awhile to grow on me, but then I fell in love with her character. (I loved August from the beginning. What can I say, monstrous boys who play the violin have a special place in my heart.) I cannot wait for Our Dark Duet, which is due to be released in June 2017.

Is this Schwab’s best work? No, I think that honor belongs to her Shades of Magic series. Is this the best book you’re going to read all year? Probably not. Is it a really great representation of what dystopian literature could be if authors would just think outside the box for once? YES.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten favorite romances

Happy Top Ten Tuesday! In honor of Valentine’s Day, today is all about romance! Specifically, favorite romance tropes.  I have a few favorite tropes, so I’ll break it down by category.  I also want to say that it was so hard to choose just ten books overall, so please please please, if you want more examples, let me know!

Imagine not only living by someone your own age, but having that person be utterly adorable and having them feel the same about you.  Never happened to me, but it seems like it would be great.

Examples:

I love a book (and a guy) that can make me laugh. Sometimes I’m up for some serious heartache, and other times I just want something light.  It’s very, very rare that a rom-com will disappoint me.

Examples:

I don’t know if I’d go for my opposite in real life, but sometimes reading about people who are like night and day that actually end up falling in love is great.  It’s particularly great when one is a grumpy jerk and the other is a ray of sunshine.

Examples:

Is there anybody alive who hasn’t fallen in love with their best friend at some point? Whether anything came of it or not, I think we all have a soft spot for these stories.

Examples:

I swore I would never get into “those stepbrother books.”  Well, I did.  Oops.  It’s not so much the taboo for me, but they always have such good buildup before anything happens!  These authors make you work for it! There’s none of this sex-by-page-two nonsense with this trope.

Examples:

Honorable mentions (or, if this were called Top Twenty Tuesday):

  • rockstar romance
  • best friend’s brother
  • brother’s best friend
  • unexpected coworkers
  • roommates

What are your favorite tropes?