Initial reaction: I really liked reading "If I Was Your Girl" for many reasons - Amanda's emotions and experiences I thought were very honest and very well portrayed, and it's awesome that it's such a supportive book with many cute moments between the characters. This book touched on a lot of issues that transgender teens face on multiple levels, certainly worth beginning larger constructive discussions on gender identity. I think the only/main thing that I could critique however, was how rushed the ending felt compared to the beginning of the book - but for me it was still a great read overall. 4 stars.
Many aspects of Meredith Russo's "If I Was Your Girl" resonated with me long after I finished reading the novel. It's a story that's the sum of many parts - coming of age, struggling to be accepted, overcoming prejudices, finding self-love and love in other dimensions as well. Told from from the perspective of a transgender teen, the novel shows the story of Amanda - who goes to live with her father after making her transition. The narrative switches between the past and the present - showing Amanda's former identity as Andrew and also showing some parts of the process and emotional journey she made in her transition. It's a journey told with a lot of care and sensitivity to many issues - psychological, social, religious, regional, etc. I think Russo did a fantastic job of making Amanda's journey - emotional and physical - very vivid to the reading eye.
The novel in the present time explores Amanda attending a new school and forming new relationships, all the while struggling with the secret of her past inside of her. When she meets Grant, it's a potential opening for many things for Amanda - a chance to be open, a chance to be in a relationship, a chance to feel "normal" - a struggle that's palpable given the stigmas that are attached and shown in the narrative as to how people perceive Amanda's identity. Even when I was reading about how Amanda's father reacted to a story that Amanda had written when she was very young, I definitely felt Amanda's anguish and the conflict on how hard and fast people tend to treat gender roles and gender identity in our society. It's a good narrative to start conversations on what gender identity entails and how multidimensional it is.
I thought that Grant and Amanda's relationship was adorable in this book in places. I kept something of a goofy grin on my face in some of the interactions they had in the book because they had palpable chemistry and it felt like watching two teens falling in love with each other for the first time - though there was a part of me that wish it could've even delved deeper than what it was. As the story marched towards it's ending, I felt the one aspect of this novel that didn't work as well was how it handled the reveal of Amanda's identity - something that had been buliding up in the background for a good portion of the narrative. As much as I was pinning for Amanda to come out of that experience like a boss and have the support and love she needed, I felt the sequence of events following the reveal progressed a bit too quickly to really show how the people around her come to terms with the reveal. Some of it was palpable, others felt a bit shortchanged because of how quick the narrative end was coming. I actually felt the transition of how Amanda's parents came to terms with her identity change was more resonant because it'd had the chance to develop over the progression of the novel, whereas Grant's realization didn't really have that same type of attention, if that makes sense. But I applaud the novel for showing Amanda's self-awareness, coming to terms, and the support of the cast of characters around her (because seriously, her transition - as shown in the book - is not an easy process, but it's one that will have you rooting for her to find a happy place and space after showing her respective struggles.)
Overall, it's definitely a book I would recommend for all to pick up. I definitely want to read more of Russo's work in the future.
Overall score: 4/5 stars.
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher.