Monday, June 12, 2017

If I Was Your Girl

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (2016), narrated by Samia Mounts

Amanda Hardy has just moved in with her dad in Lambertville, Tennesse. She is hoping to start over after being badly beaten by some kids at her whole school. Just a few years ago Amanda was known as Andrew, but now that she is finally living as her true self she needs to be free of her past and away from people who know what she's been through and don't understand her. In her new school, Amanda quickly makes friends and catches the eye of a boy named Grant who she soon starts dating. But no matter how many times her trans mentor, Virginia, tells her that she doesn't owe anyone the truth of her past, Amanda can't help feeling like she can't keep her secret forever.

I listened to most of this book while driving back from Maine last weekend, so I wasn't able to take notes to remind myself about details. But I got so wrapped up in this story, and really felt for Amanda. Aside from the narrow-minded people who made her life miserable because she was trans, the characters were very realistic and flawed and less simple than they may seem on the surface. One of Amanda's friends was a fundamentalist Christian (or at least her family was), but she wasn't especially bigoted. Another friend was bisexual (or maybe pansexual?) and an obvious ally, but maybe not as much of an ally as Amanda thinks. Amanda's parents, too, were pretty sympathetic figures. Her father had especially struggled to understand what it means to be Amanda, but despite this he still loved her and defended her. One of my favorite passages in the book was when Amanda catches her mother crying over photos of her as a child - back when she was known as Andrew - and her mother talks to her about how kids are always changing into someone new. She cried over infant photos when Amanda was a toddler, and toddler photos when she was older. This was a surprise to Amanda who assumed her mother was crying because she wasn't Andrew anymore, and in a way it was, but not the way that Amanda expected.

Her relationship with Grant had me worried throughout much of the book. Her secret was totally hanging over her the whole time, which is completely understandable, and she didn't know if she could trust him. In many ways he was a typical small-town guy, but there was something she knew about him that made her think maybe she could count on him to try and be understanding. When everything finally came out (because of course it did, and in a painful way) the reaction from people around her was both upsetting and heartening. In short, it was complicated. But ultimately I felt quite satisfied with the resolution and with (most of) Amanda's friends. She definitely had some true friends in Lambertville, even though she hadn't been living there very long.

This was the second teen book in a row that I listened to which took place in a rural area, and that made me quite happy. Being trans in the rural South is probably not easy, but the thing about small towns is that there aren't a ton of people there so when you become someone's friend it's really worth it to remain their friend, even when they turn out to be different than you thought. You're going to just keep seeing the same people all the time and it's really in your interest to get along with them as much as possible. In a city, it's easy to discard friends and not care about strangers but in a rural area there aren't any strangers.

I was very happy to earn that the author is trans herself. At the end of the book, she includes some notes about why the wrote the story the way she did, pointing out that it was very different from her own life. She admits that many aspects of the book were perhaps unrealistic for many trans people, but she wanted to make the story as relatable as possible to as many people as possible. Some of the reviewers on Goodreads take issue with this, and with the fact they don't think she confronts enough issues in the book.  I respect their opinions but also think there is real value in creating a character and story that can be sort of a gateway book for people who aren't as open to the trans experience. Not to mention, a book about a trans character that contains more positive experiences than negative ones is a great (and necessary!) way to show that being trans is normal, and we really really need that, especially for teens. I really enjoyed the story a lot and would be totally happy if Meredith Russo wrote a follow-up about Amanda's experiences in college. (Hint hint.)

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