If I Was Your Girl
Amanda Hardy is starting over in a new town, where nobody knows her big secret – she used to be Andrew Hardy. After a suicide attempt, she completed a full transition (including hormones and surgery) to female. When, as part of trying to establish herself in a new female life, Amanda also falls in love with Grant, her life becomes more complicated. Who, precisely, is this new Amanda – both as a female and as a person? This authentic and honest story is an important book which I hope will develop empathy in both teen and adult readers.
Author Meredith Russo is both a transwoman and a Southerner, and her experience in both areas shines through. The setting feels deeply authentic, from the heat, the high school culture and the odd mix of fierce loyalty to “one of ours”, to the intolerance, often religious, that characterizes many places in the South. The depiction of Amanda’s pre- and post-transition life and its dangers, both physical (beatings, bullying, sexual violence) and emotional (isolation and suicidal depression) are vivid and ring true. I liked that the author mentions side effects and specific drug names for medications and treatments involved in transition – such details bring the story to life. On the downside, the prose is nothing special. Then again, with a teen heroine writing in the first person, it feels authentic.
Amanda’s parents are also nicely developed and complex. Her mother’s comments that she was going to lose her son anyway, so she wants to save her daughter, are beautifully supportive – but then we see that she still mourns the son in a way that is very hard on Amanda. Amanda’s father is carrying a lot of cultural masculinity baggage, especially in flashbacks where he struggles to parent feminine Andrew. In an unfunny/funny twist, he now feels “daddy has a shotgun” protectiveness towards Amanda as she explores the world of boys.
The book is more coming-of-age story than romance, so I don’t want to penalize the author too much for the weak romance. Still, it’s disappointing. Grant likes Amanda right away and their relationship is established within the first few chapters. He also has a backstory that telegraphs him as likely to be tolerant. Since there is no conflict beyond Amanda’s secret, it is one of the few areas of the book that reduces Amanda’s growth to being just about her trans-ness. Also, the ending feels much too smooth.
Russo writes in the afterword that she deliberately crafted – in Amanda – the least controversial trans heroine she could think of: always identifying as female, always identifying as very feminine, extremely pretty after transition, always attracted to men, fully transitioned in both hormones and body. She also writes that she wants all readers to know that whatever gender identity they or someone else has, it’s okay. That’s a good way to write an “ambassador” book and character which could reach out to people who are perhaps a bit uncomfortable with the idea of trans-ness while still making it clear that once you’re comfortable with and rooting for Amanda, you should push yourself again.
On the whole, If I Was Your Girl is a solid read, and not one just for YA readers. This was my first book with a trans heroine, and I’m glad I expanded my horizons by reading it.