If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This one is the first of three diverse contemporaries I'll be reading in a row thanks to Aimal Farooq's recommendations. It's also the first book I've read with a trans girl lead, by a trans woman author, and while Russo admits that she's taken artistic-license liberties with her depiction of Amanda, it doesn't make the book any less readable.
If I Was Your Girl reminds me a tad bit of Simon Vs. because of its Georgia setting, but it's a less lighthearted and fluffy book. Like Simon, Amanda hides who she really is from her classmates, but unlike Simon, she's got very, very good reason, based on past experience, to stay closeted. Russo sprinkles in flashbacks to Amanda's past, when she was known as Andrew, to showcase the process of her transition, and also drops some hints about past traumas, but without getting heavily detailed about it.
As for the present-day story, Amanda makes friends in her new school very quickly, and also develops a quick mutual crush on the attractive boy-next-door type, Grant. Maybe a little too quick, easily accusable of insta-love, but hey, they're teenagers. Just yesterday, I presented an alternate version of a scene from my own book, focusing on my female lead's adolescent feelings, and my classmates agreed that even though the relationship involved was very nascent, it was realistic for Fionna to have unrealistic expectations. So, reading Amanda and Grant's relationship, I thought it was really sweet, and helped balance out the darker and more dangerous parts of the book very well.
The best part of this book, I think, was when Amanda not only made a bunch of Star Wars references - geeks runneth the world! - but also expressed the thought that her geeky tendencies could give away her having been assigned male at birth. Of course, geekdom is far from exclusive to guys - or, at least, it shouldn't be - but this moment, it reminded me a bit of Elliot Wake's Bad Boy, making the reader question gender identity and gender roles and gender stereotypes just as much as the narrator.
Meredith Russo's debut makes for a quick, bite-sized, but very addictive read.
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