Published by Flatiron Books on May 3, 2016
Genres: LGBT, Young Adult
Source: I listened to this audiobook via my TuneIn Premium subscription.
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Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school in Lambertville, Tennessee. Like any other girl, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret. There’s a reason why 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 the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that she used to be Andrew.
This could almost be described as a typical YA coming-of-age story, but the protagonist, Amanda, is a trans girl who lives in the Bible Belt. If I Was Your Girl was partially inspired by the author’s experiences as a trans woman (also from the Bible Belt) and tackles themes of identity, love, poverty, and family dynamics.
I listened to the audiobook and the narrator was fine, but her accent was a little weird (either do the Southern accent or don’t!) and the breathlessness was kind of overdone. (I wish YA books would get teen voice actors. Certainly they’re out there?)
The setting does make things a little more difficult for Amanda. But too often, the South is portrayed as so completely backwoods it’s hopeless unless you move away (and let’s be honest, there is no place in the United States where being trans is easy). Russo’s portrayal of being trans in the South is much more balanced and realistic, which I appreciate. Amanda has access to knowledgeable healthcare and support groups. She’s religious, which plays a huge part in her depression, but also in her self-acceptance: She has an important moment of clarity in what could be considered a hostile environment—listening to a sermon at a Southern Baptist church.
Amanda’s relationship with her parents is difficult and nuanced, but still full of love. Her dad especially—he’s rough, the things he says and does is often cringe-worthy, but you can tell he’s trying as best he can. He’s scared for her, he’s processing, but he obviously cares about her.
By the way, the note from the author is required reading—do not skip! It clarified some things I felt uncomfortable with at first. I think I would have enjoyed this a little more if 1) I was a little younger, and 2) if I’d read it instead of listening to the audiobook. But Russo has written an engaging, hopeful novel that is, at the same time, heartbreakingly realistic. It’s a tough read at times, but this is an important, authentic voice.