Russo, Meredith. If I Was Your Girl. Flatiron Books, 2016. 288 p. HC $17.99. ISBN 9781250078407.
Amanda Hardy has moved to Lambertville, Tennessee, population 7500, to live with her estranged father, after earlier bad experiences in Georgia. She is a 19-year-old transgender girl, has included surgery in her transition, and has had to overcome bullying and a suicide attempt in her recent past. She needs, and hopes to find, a fresh start, but she’s harboring a deep secret.
Relatively soon, she falls in with a group of classmates including a closeted lesbian and a fundamentalist church-goer, and seems to find solid acceptance as a girl. But when she meets handsome athlete Grant, Andrea also becomes swept up into a passionate romance with devotion on both sides. But the question lingers- should she tell him exactly who she is, and if so, when?
In the novel’s first-person narrative, transgender author Russo juxtaposes Amanda’s “real time” description of events with memories of pivotal, not-always-positive moments from her childhood and pre-teenage years. The plot’s suspense builds effectively; as Amanda experiences the joys of deep female friendship, mixed with heterosexual love likely leading to eventual intimacy, readers are braced for a “big reveal” which ends up emanating from an unexpected source.
Though it’s sometimes unclear at any given moment exactly how far along Amanda has progressed in her transition, the characters and their interactions are realistic and engrossing. Amanda’s own voice reflects strength mixed with awe and wonder at the amazing changes in her personal fortunes and her determination to stay faithful to her hard-won new identity.
This book (which also features a transgender girl as its cover model) is recommended for all LGBTQ young adult collections. The number of YA books with a transgender focus is expanding by the day, but Russo’s effort deserves pride of place among all of them.
Dallas (TX) Public Library
[Content edited October 3, 2016.]