Review: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo


Goodreads summary:

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.

Review:

I have… complicated feelings about this book. On the one hand, yay, own voices representation! On the other hand, I came away from it feeling sad and kind of icky, and I want to take some time to analyse where that came from.

However, firstly, I want to say that I really identified with the way that Amanda dealt with her faith. Homophobes do not get to make decisions about queer people’s faith, and I really loved that moment when, sitting in a church which would hate her if she came out to them, surrounded by fundamentalists, Amanda decided that God knew and loved her. And essentially, that everyone else can suck it.

I think most of my discomfort about the book came from Bea.

Don’t get me wrong – as a character, I loved her. Bea is an out bisexual who when we first meet her seems to act as a queer-magnet, collecting a small group of queer teens around her and living a difficult life in a very conservative area. But the role she played in the novel felt really bad. The first time alarm bells started ringing was when she said that all homophobes are secretly gay, because they’re thinking about gay sex so much. I hate it when people say this. Firstly, it ignores the institutional part of homophobia. Secondly, although on first reading it feels progressive, what it’s really saying is ‘yeah, those people are evil, but it’s because they’re gay’, which is insanely homophobic in itself. I understand why Bea said it in the context of the novel – she’s in a conservative area, she hasn’t had a lot of other queer people around, she’s at the very beginning of what I guess I think of as queer learning. But I hate that it went unchallenged.

The second thing is a major spoiler. Just so you know. But I’m going to say it, because it made me mad. Bea, the only out queer person at this school, gets drunk at prom, staggers onto the stage and forcibly outs three people in some kind of rage-attack against the school for hating her. I felt nauseous reading it. And I know that it is an experience that too many people go through, but Bea isn’t confronted for her behaviour – she almost disappears after this, as if it was her character’s purpose. I don’t think it was necessary, and I don’t think it was right that Bea was the one to do it. There are precious few bisexual people in fiction. Why does this one need to betray every other queer teen at this school?

I obviously don’t have the authority to comment on the trans content of this novel. It is, as Meredith’s author note points out, a valuable narrative to have out there for young trans kids coming to terms with their identity.  However, one thing that I thought was odd, based on stuff I’ve read from other trans narratives, was that every time Amanda comes out to anyone, she almost immediately has to tell them her dead name – even in the blurb of the book. I just… I get that it’s perhaps one of the simplest ways to tell people in a very conservative environment that your character is trans, but I’ve read several people talking about this as a bad trope before, so I just wanted to put that out there. This review by Emma, a trans woman writer, also raises the subject. I’d also like to link to Casey Platt’s extensive and thoughtful review of this book – she goes into a lot more detail and analysis than I am capable of.

I can’t finish without saying that I am very here for Chloe, teen baby lesbian, fearlessly pointing a shotgun at a potential rapist. I just needed you all to know. I also really liked the author’s notes at the end of the novel – one for cis readers and one for trans readers. Even if you don’t read this book, you should flick to the back and read the author’s notes.

Representation:

One fat bisexual, one lesbian, one grown up trans lady and our main character, a trans teenager. The author is trans, and much of the book is inspired by her own experiences.

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5 thoughts on “Review: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

  1. From the way your review was worded I expected a higher rating 😅 But it’s quite a thoughtful review, and while I was on the fence about picking this up, I don’t think I will now. Thank you for sharing! x

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  2. I just wanted to drop by and say thank you for your honest review. I had similar feelings, particularly about the fact that the only bi character forcibly outs everyone at school, including Amanda. It really rubbed me the wrong way. At the same time, I recognize the importance of an #OwnVoices trans book, so I can’t be that upset, I guess. Anyway, I’m glad I’m not alone.

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