(No actual dueling—or even arm-twisting—was involved. Don’t worry, this is a dual review, not a duel review. Sorry if you’re disappointed.)
Danielle Hammelef was the latest winner of my Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up “Make Me Read It” giveaway, and she chose to make me read If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo. I got an autographed copy of this book at ALA 2016, and I don’t know why I hadn’t read it yet. I LOVED Russo’s Birthday, so I had high hopes for this one. I’m so glad Danielle chose it!
Read on to see what we thought of the book…
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
Published by Flatiron Books on May 3, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBTQ+
My content rating: YA (Bullying; violence, including attempted sexual assault; kissing that moves on to some nudity, but nothing is really described)
A new kind of big-hearted novel about being seen for who you really are.
Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she's determined not to get too close to anyone.
But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can't help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda's terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won't be able to see past it.
Because the secret that Amanda's been keeping? It's that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love?
Meredith Russo's If I Was Your Girl is a universal story about feeling different and a love story that everyone will root for.
A compelling Own Voices book about a transgender girl seeking acceptance as her true self.
What Fed Our Addiction:
The author’s note at the end. I found this enlightening and it helped my understanding of the assumptions Russo made for this book, such as the cost of surgery and treatment for Amanda.
NICOLE SAYS: It’s interesting that you mention this first because it was also a HUGE positive for me. There were certain aspects of the story that seemed a teensy bit easy to me—the fact that Amanda passed so easily (and was stunningly beautiful), and the facts about the surgery… a few other things too. But Russo basically explains all of this in her notes at the end and tells us why she made these choices. And, yeah, the choices make sense based on what Russo. I would almost recommend reading the notes at the end first. (I should have told you to, Danielle—didn’t think of it. I don’t think they really give much in the way of spoilers, right?)
DANIELLE SAYS: I totally agree about recommending people read the author’s notes first. I don’t remember any spoilers there either.
Amanda’s parents. I enjoyed seeing how they struggled in their own ways with Andrew becoming Amanda. I felt their grief and sense of loss of a son as well as their growth as they found acceptance and showed their love for their daughter.
NICOLE SAYS: Yes, yes, yes! As the mom of a transgender daughter, I would love to say that it was instantaneously easy—that there was no grieving process, no questioning, no sense of confusion or loss. I’d love to say that we were able to instantly consistently use female pronouns and never messed up and called Jade her original given name. I would be lying. The process that Amanda’s parents went through to understand their daughter and be there for her was very realistically portrayed.
Amanda’s friends. Layla, Chloe, and Anna are three people I’d want for my besties.
NICOLE SAYS: So true! I was a little nervous for a moment that they weren’t going to stick by her, but I was happy that wasn’t the case.
The importance and power of this book. The raw honesty with which Russo revealed Amanda’s story and her struggles with bullying, hatred, and having to start over many times.
NICOLE SAYS: This is why Own Voices stories are so important. You get a depth of honesty and emotion that you just can’t get otherwise.
The ending. I thought the questions left unanswered/open made for a perfect ending for Amanda, who the author left us at another turning point in her life.
NICOLE SAYS: I hadn’t thought of it in those terms, but I think you’re right that it was nice to have some sense of closure, but without all the answers and her life tied up with a pretty bow.
What Left Us Hungry for More:
Romance. The relationship between Grant and Amanda was too insta-love for me. Amanda and Grant only knew each other for a couple of months when they “got serious” physically and Amanda was willing to tell him everything about her past and risk trusting someone she just basically met. Maybe if they had been able to spend lots more quality time together, this wouldn’t have bothered me. Of course, this is also a character flaw of Amanda as she does this in another case as well View Spoiler »when she tells Bee her secret « Hide Spoiler.
NICOLE SAYS: I don’t know if I felt like it was insta-love exactly, but I do agree that feelings did get serious decently fast. I feel like in a lot of YA, we jump straight from first kiss to… lots more in a matter of days, so I guess I’ve gotten kind of numb to that (and I guess a couple of months feels refreshing). Still, I definitely understand the point, especially when it comes to her willingness to take emotional chances.
The book was too short. I felt there needed to be more interactions between characters. There was not enough depth for any part of the plot to surprise me. The plot was too predictable for me.
NICOLE SAYS: Yeah, I agree that there weren’t any huge surprises. I was okay with that, since I was wrapped up in Amanda’s personal story.
Stereotypical jocks. Too many jocks in books are bullies and show sexual phobias. Parker was only this for me, though I did get my hopes up when he showed a vulnerable side for a second, then it was gone.
NICOLE SAYS: Yeah, this is an unfortunate typical stereotype that’s reinforced in this book. It would be nice to see some other characters to counterbalance that.
So, that wraps it up! DANIELLE SAYS: Overall, I enjoyed the writing style and voice, enough so that I bought Birthday, which is sitting next to If I Was Your Girl as I type. I’m very happy I made Nicole read this book.
I’m glad you made me read it too, Danielle! I loved Birthday even more than this book, so I hope you enjoy it too!!!
About the Author
MEREDITH RUSSO was born, raised, and lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She is a mother to a wonderful four-year-old, a cat with an attitude problem, and a few dozen trans people around the globe. Her star sign is Aries and one of her birth arcana is the Tower, so naturally she is a disaster.
Her debut novel, If I Was Your Girl, won the Stonewall Award in 2016, as well as honors for the Walter Dean Myers Diversity Award and the Lambda Literary Award. She has also contributed to Radical Hope, Meet Cute, (Don’t) Call Me Crazy, and the New York Times. The best place to keep up to date on her current work is Patreon, where she publishes one short story, one novel chapter, and small multimedia side projects every month. Her second major novel, Birthday, was released in April 2019.
You definitely, absolutely should not be shy about contacting her, even if it’s just to talk. She’s always open to new opportunities and chances to speak with new people.
Thank you so much Nicole for this opportunity! So far, we have picked excellent books to dual over this year.
Yes, we are on a roll!!
I liked this book too! The author’s note was a good choice because I also felt like some elements of the plot were too easy. I meant to pick up Birthday, but I haven’t done it yet.
Yes, once I read why Russo made those choices, it made a lot of sense. This book was probably pushing boundaries for a lot of readers!
I read this novel a year back, I actually liked it a lot 🙂 Fantastic review overall.
Glad you liked it too!!
I’ve enjoyed both of Russo’s books, and agree with you about them illustrating why #ownvoices books are so important.
I think it’s possible for someone to write another perspective, but I always think it’s important to balance out our reading with plenty of Own Voices perspectives!
I haven’t read anything by Russo, but I’ve heard good things. I’m glad you both enjoyed this one, even if you did find some “faults” if you will. I love a good author’s note too, by the way!
I absolutely love reading author’s notes—they give so much insight!!
It sounds like you both really appreciated this book and that you could relate to the parenting aspect of this a lot, Nicole. I am glad it handled the subject matter and trans experience so well. I always read the author’s note but I usually read them after having read the book. I’ve never considered reading them first.
I always read them at the end too—I mean, they’re always at the back of the book. Usually, that’s the best way to read them anyway (sometimes there can be spoilers for the book), but in this case, I don’t think anything she says is a big spoiler and it would help understand why she made certain choices.