If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like everyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is holding back. There's a reason 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 Amanda's secret is that, at her old school, she used to be called Andrew. However, secrets always have a way of getting out... (from Goodreads).


Rating:

LGBT+ books are always something that catch my attention, and If I Was Your Girl was a book I knew I wanted to read as soon as I discovered it on Goodreads. I was saddened to discover at the time it had months before publication, but I put it on my to-read list and waited. Finally on the 1st of June it was released and when my copy arrived in the post yesterday morning, I knew reading it was the only thing I planned to do that day. 

Amanda is our heroine, and she has just moved to a new school to get away from the stigma she has been living with back home with her mum. She wishes to move forward with her life, find a place she can accept who she is and live as the girl she has always been, whatever her birth certificate says. She moves to Lambertville, to live with the dad she hasn't seen for years now. From the get-go, it's clear they have some issues to work out regarding Amanda's new identity, but her dad is willing to try.

Amanda's transition into a new school would seem easy to anyone looking in from the outside; she is pretty, so the boys like her, and interesting and kind, so the girls like her too. But of course she is wrestling with a terrible worry that she has to keep secrets, watch what she says, in fear she could lose her new friends, lose the boy she is beginning to fall in love with if anyone finds out the truth. Meredith Russo does talk about how she made Amanda's story easier than some others, because she could pass and she was interested in boys. That doesn't take away any poignancy from the story, doesn't invalidate Amanda's struggle in any way. 

The subject matter of this book is a very sensitive one, and I think Russo handles things very well. Amanda is such a brave and thought-out character, with layers of personality and history. Her parents' reaction to the news are believable, and they both work through their confusion and the loss of their son, because they love their daughter. It's a very touching journey, because I know sadly that's not how it always goes. Everyone in this book has been carefully crafted to represent a type of person, and in each character I can see someone I know or have met. Such a rich cast of three-dimensional characters is always a surprise in YA fiction. 

I had no idea Meredith Russo was a transgender woman until I reached the end of the book, already verging on tears, and read her letters to the audience. There were two; one for her cisgender readers, and one for her trans readers. It was the latter that reduced me to tears, as it was so raw and beautiful. I admire Russo's strength for writing this book, which has been partly inspired by her own experiences, and I'm glad LGBT+ fiction is a growing genre because books like this need to be written. Awareness needs to be out there, because people struggle to accept what they don't understand. The Amandas of the world deserve happiness, and I was so pleased to see Amanda grow to understand that by the end of the book. 
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