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

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I planned to read but never got to

Happy Top Ten Tuesday!  Today is all about books you planned on reading, but never quite got to.  There were a ton of new releases I planned on reading in 2016 – 61 total.  Of those, I read 32, but that still leaves a whole 29 that I didn’t!  Choosing the ten that I was most excited about was difficult, but here they are.

As always, Goodreads links below:

// if i was your girl // idol // the loose ends list // the geek’s guide to unrequited love // the hating game // morning star // holding up the universe // the passion of dolssa // draw the line // the inside of out //

Are there any books that you didn’t get to in 2016?

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I wouldn’t mind Santa leaving under my tree

Happy Top Ten Tuesday!  Today’s theme is Ten Books I Wouldn’t Mind Santa Leaving Under My Tree.  Well, there are a lot of books I wouldn’t mind finding on Christmas morning, but here are ten near the top of my list.  (I tried to avoid books I’ve recently posted about.)

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

A collection of humorous autobiographical essays by the Academy Award-nominated actress and star of Up in the Air and Pitch Perfect.

Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air, Twilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”

At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.

With her razor-sharp wit, Anna recounts the absurdities she’s experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture as only she can—from her unusual path to the performing arts (Vanilla Ice and baggy neon pants may have played a role) to her double life as a middle-school student who also starred on Broadway to her initial “dating experiments” (including only liking boys who didn’t like her back) to reviewing a binder full of butt doubles to her struggle to live like an adult woman instead of a perpetual “man-child.”

Enter Anna’s world and follow her rise from “scrappy little nobody” to somebody who dazzles on the stage, the screen, and now the page—with an electric, singular voice, at once familiar and surprising, sharp and sweet, funny and serious (well, not that serious).

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout, the girl once dubbed “America’s Fattest Teen.” But no one’s taken the time to look past her weight to get to know who she really is. Following her mom’s death, she’s been picking up the pieces in the privacy of her home, dealing with her heartbroken father and her own grief. Now, Libby’s ready: for high school, for new friends, for love, and for every possibility life has to offer. In that moment, I know the part I want to play here at MVB High. I want to be the girl who can do anything.

Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin, too. Yes, he’s got swagger, but he’s also mastered the impossible art of giving people what they want, of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a newly acquired secret: he can’t recognize faces. Even his own brothers are strangers to him. He’s the guy who can re-engineer and rebuild anything, but he can’t understand what’s going on with the inner workings of his brain. So he tells himself to play it cool: Be charming. Be hilarious. Don’t get too close to anyone.

Until he meets Libby. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game—which lands them in group counseling and community service—Libby and Jack are both pissed, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel. Because sometimes when you meet someone, it changes the world, theirs and yours.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

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.

The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone

It’s a summer for first love, last wishes, and letting go.

Maddie has big plans to spend the last months before college tying up high school “loose ends” alongside her best friends. Then her beloved grandmother drops two bombshells: (1) Gram is dying. (2) She’s taking her entire family on a round-the-world cruise of dreams come true—but at the end, Gram won’t be returning home.

With a promise to live in the now without regrets, Maddie boards the Wishwell determined to make every moment count. She finds new friends in her fellow Wishwellians, takes advantage of the trip’s many luxuries, gets even closer to her quirky family, and falls for painfully gorgeous Enzo. But despite the copious laughter, headiness of first love, and wonder of the glamorous destinations, Maddie knows she is on the brink of losing Gram, and she struggles to find the strength to let go in a whirlwind summer shaped by love, grief, and laughter.

A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody

When I made the wish, I just wanted a do-over. Another chance to make things right. I never, in a million years, thought it might actually come true…

Sixteen-year-old Ellison Sparks is having a serious case of the Mondays. She gets a ticket for running a red light, she manages to take the world’s worst school picture, she bombs softball try-outs and her class election speech (note to self: never trust a cheerleader when she swears there are no nuts in her bake-sale banana bread), and to top it all off, Tristan, her gorgeous rocker boyfriend suddenly dumps her. For no good reason!

As far as Mondays go, it doesn’t get much worse than this. And Ellie is positive that if she could just do it all over again, she would get it right. So when she wakes up the next morning to find she’s reliving the exact same day, she knows what she has to do: stop her boyfriend from breaking up with her. But it seems no matter how many do-overs she gets or how hard Ellie tries to repair her relationship, Tristan always seems bent set on ending it. Will Ellie ever figure out how to fix this broken day? Or will she be stuck in this nightmare of a Monday forever?

From the author 52 Reasons to Hate My Father and The Unremembered trilogy comes a hilarious and heartwarming story about second (and third and fourth and fifth) chances. Because sometimes it takes a whole week of Mondays to figure out what you really want.

Draw the Line by Laurent Linn

Adrian Piper is used to blending into the background. He may be a talented artist, a sci-fi geek, and gay, but at his Texas high school those traits only bring him the worst kind of attention.

In fact, the only place he feels free to express himself is at his drawing table, crafting a secret world through his own Renaissance art-inspired superhero, Graphite.

But in real life, when a shocking hate crime flips his world upside-down, Adrian must decide what kind of person he wants to be. Maybe it’s time to not be so invisible after all—no matter how dangerous the risk.

Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler

What happens when the person you’re becoming isn’t the one your family wants you to be?

When Aaron Hartzler was little, he couldn’t wait for the The Rapture: that moment when Jesus would come down from the clouds to whisk him and his family up to heaven. But as he turns sixteen, Aaron grows more curious about all the things his family forsakes for the Lord. He begins to realize he doesn’t want Jesus to come back just yet—not before he has his first kiss, sees his first movie, or stars in the school play.

Whether he’s sneaking out, making out, or playing hymns with a hangover, Aaron learns a few lessons that can’t be found in the Bible. He discovers that the girl of your dreams can just as easily be the boy of your dreams, and the tricky part about believing is that no one can do it for you.

In this funny and heartfelt coming-of-age memoir, debut author Aaron Hartzler recalls his teenage journey from devoted to doubtful, and the search to find his own truth without losing the fundamentalist family who loves him.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

     Nemesis (n.)
1) An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome;
2) A person’s undoing;
3) Joshua Templeman.

Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman hate each other. Not dislike. Not begrudgingly tolerate. Hate. And they have no problem displaying their feelings through a series of ritualistic passive aggressive maneuvers as they sit across from each other, executive assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company. Lucy can’t understand Joshua’s joyless, uptight, meticulous approach to his job. Joshua is clearly baffled by Lucy’s overly bright clothes, quirkiness, and Pollyanna attitude.

Now up for the same promotion, their battle of wills has come to a head and Lucy refuses to back down when their latest game could cost her her dream job…But the tension between Lucy and Joshua has also reached its boiling point, and Lucy is discovering that maybe she doesn’t hate Joshua. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.

Punk 57 by Penelope Douglas

Misha

I can’t help but smile at the words in her letter. She misses me.

In fifth grade, my teacher set us up with pen pals from a different school. Thinking I was a girl, with a name like Misha, the other teacher paired me up with her student, Ryen. My teacher, believing Ryen was a boy like me, agreed.

It didn’t take long for us to figure out the mistake. And in no time at all, we were arguing about everything. The best take-out pizza. Android vs. iPhone. Whether or not Eminem is the greatest rapper ever…

And that was the start. For the next seven years, it was us.

Her letters are always on black paper with silver writing. Sometimes there’s one a week or three in a day, but I need them. She’s the only one who keeps me on track, talks me down, and accepts everything I am.

We only had three rules. No social media, no phone numbers, no pictures. We had a good thing going. Why ruin it?

Until I run across a photo of a girl online. Name’s Ryen, loves Gallo’s pizza, and worships her iPhone. What are the chances?

F*ck it. I need to meet her.

I just don’t expect to hate what I find.

Ryen

He hasn’t written in three months. Something’s wrong. Did he die? Get arrested? Knowing Misha, neither would be a stretch.

Without him around, I’m going crazy. I need to know someone is listening. It’s my own fault. I should’ve gotten his number or picture or something.

He could be gone forever.

Or right under my nose, and I wouldn’t even know it.

What books are you hoping for this holiday season?