“Young, transgendered, and brave.”
Happy Sunday! It’s a lazy sort of afternoon and in between my stupor of stuffing flapjacks into my face and reading poetry I’ve decided it is now time to discuss novel 24 of the year. If I was your Girl is a brave and darling young adult novel that tackles gender identity and sexuality in a very broad way. I am an advocate of YA fiction as generally it is slightly lighter reading and honestly can be very fun. However Meredith Russo’s novel covers a challenging topic, it is a different kind of coming of age story.
Trans teenager Amanda Hardy is the new girl in town, she’s trying to keep her past a secret whilst learning to fit in, making new friends, and falling in love with a boy. She meets friends who have their own secrets: a girl who hides her social life from her strict Baptist parents, another who has never ‘come out’ but has a secret girlfriend, and also Grant, her boyfriend who keeps his family from her.
She navigates her day to day in a teenage story of fitting into a new school and finding herself at ease with other people for the first time in her life. Amanda’s previous life as Andrew is intermittently spattered throughout the novel. Andrew’s fraught life at home, his parents fighting over his femininity and a way to curb the increasing bullying at school. An account of the start of the transition to Amanda following a suicide attempt and finding a trans support group.
It is really an easy story and it is uncomplicated in its broad handling of the topic. Amanda is lucky in her transition as she is quite young, her hormones are very early, her surgery is also easily funded by her Mom. She is feminine from the onset and ‘passes’ as her gender with relative ease (but not without anxiety). This is a novel that waters down the difficult topic of gender reassignment, and casts it under an easily accessible light. The violence in the novel is somewhat dimmed and faded in comparison to how I feel certain realities lie for the trans community. Googling the violence against the trans community brings up horrific results, like there is a transgendered individual murdered every 29 hours around the world.
But figures and realities like this, I feel are a back drop to If I was your Girl. The ease in which Amanda integrates with her new society, how her mother is always on her side, how her father ultimately fully gets on board with it too, how she is white, widely proclaimed as attractive, is heterosexual, ‘passes’ easily, and is in a relatively privileged position. These are things that are idealistic but optimistic and in some cases hopeful. I believe for how narrow a look it gives to the trans community it still gives important visibility. Through a geeky, relatable teenage girl. It may at times not feel like a fair representation of the trans community, but I’m sure there are some girls and women like Amanda rubbing shoulders with those with the daily struggle to ‘pass’.
This novel also highlights something that I feel is very important about education and I was particularly interested in this novel because it is aimed at a younger audience. This is a simply a story about a teenage girl, with a little twist. It may fall short of some wilder struggles and some harder hitting material that is horrific, it may be written with the character in a position of privilege. But that is not the point. The point of this novel is to give visibility to a community that is there and for the novel to act as an access point for young people. Regardless of past physical struggles, Russo’s Amanda is undoubtably every teenage girl, falling in love, and running around finding herself.
This is an incredibly easy read and forthright and unapologetic. I’d recommend it.