“You can have anything…once you admit you deserve it” (180).
This idea runs throughout Meredith Russo’s novel, If I Was Your Girl. Protagonist Amanda Hardy has recently moved to a small town in Tennessee to live with her father and graduate high school. She must navigate a new school, make friends, get a boyfriend, and reconnect with a father she hasn’t spoken to in six years. But Amanda’s biggest struggle and secret in her new town? She’s transgender.
If I Was Your Girl is powerful because it deals with this topic head-on. The novel has frequent flashbacks to Amanda’s past, dealing with the dissolution of her parents’ marriage (which she feels is partially her fault), early stories of realizing she would rather be female, her depression and suicide attempt, her transition towards taking estrogen and getting surgery, going to therapy, and getting bullied and viciously beaten. Russo doesn’t skim over details: instead, she strives to explain why Amanda felt the way she did, the effects a critical community can have, and even the painful process of dilation in order to create a vagina.
The author, Meredith Russo, shares a lot of similarities with Amanda: She is also transgender, was born in Tennessee, and was beaten for being trans. This adds a lot of credibility to the novel and makes it more compelling. Today, there’s a lot of debate about transgender individuals, especially in regards to bathroom usage and whether being transgender is a mental disorder. If I Was Your Girl is a great way to learn more about the transgender community—and although you may feel uncomfortable at times, that uncomfortableness is important.
In addition to everyone who wants to learn more about being transgender or who is transgender, If I Was Your Girl is, at its heart, a love story, and will appeal to all fans of romance. Amanda falls in love with football player Grant, who has his own secrets to hide. She has never been in a relationship before, and the reader gets to see her progression towards being more confident as well as the progression of her and Grant’s relationship. But it’s not just a love story in terms of romance: If I Was Your Girl is also the story of how Amanda and her father learn to love each other again after Amanda begins to live as female, how Amanda’s friends learn to love her regardless of what Amanda’s birth sex is, and how Amanda, ultimately, learns to love herself.
Amanda’s story is complex. She deals with intersection of being transgender and living in the South, religion, and parental acceptance. Amanda’s friend explains to her, “people in the South are addicted to the closet…Everybody’s too afraid of going to hell or getting made fun of…so they can’t even really admit what they want to themselves” (164). Amanda herself deals with trying to maintain her faith. And Amanda’s mother, while accepting, still struggles with what she sees as the death of her son; when Amanda argues, “I’m still me,” her mother responds that “It ain’t that simple” and “I know I’m supposed to say it is, but it ain’t” (186-187). I found these aspects to be thought-provoking; Russo shows that nothing is as simple as it seems, and the novel contains many twists and complications, which keep the novel from falling into tropes or stereotypes.
This novel is powerful and important for transgender youth, above all. Russo said she wanted to “help transgender youth who feel alone and not accepted in any community by giving them a relatable heroine who is fun, interesting, and empowered” (Edwards). I think she certainly achieved her goal, and that the story of Amanda will grab you and leave you thinking long after the last pages.
By: Grace Layer
Edwards, Lynda. “Chattanooga transgender woman lands $100,000 book deal.” Times Free Press 27 January 2015. Web. 17 April 2017.
Russo, Meredith. If I Was Your Girl. New York: Alloy Entertainment, 2016. Print.