Uncovering YA Novels with Transgender Characters: Background information when reading If I Was Your Girl

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If I Was Your Girl

by Meredith Russo

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo X
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
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  • First Published:
    May 2016, 288 pages

    May 2017, 304 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Bradley Sides
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About this Book

Uncovering YA Novels with Transgender Characters

This article relates to If I Was Your Girl

Print Review

Modern American culture has a fascination with understanding what being transgender truly means. Popular television series such as I Am Cait and I Am Jazz are bringing real, transitioning lives into households everywhere. But, of course, TV series aren't the only way that people are beginning to understand what being transgender means. Books are also helping pave the path, and these stories are quickly growing in number.

The most recent addition to the canon of transgender literature is Meredith Russo's debut YA novel, If I Was Your Girl. Russo's novel follows Amanda Hardy, a young, transgender teenager, who is trying to find her way in the world. Born as Andrew, Amanda struggled with life as a boy. She was bullied and mistreated. Now, living as a girl, things are better. She has friends and a boyfriend. Plus, she's beginning to love herself. Still, though, there are problems. Amanda has to deal with how to accept her past and, perhaps more confusing, how to tell others about who she was.

While Amanda's story is fiction, it packs the emotional punch of a fine piece of non-fiction. Amanda and all of her situations and emotions feel sincere. It's certain that Russo's novel will help other young people who are beginning their own transitions. Here are other YA novels that can be a mirror for those teens, as well as offer a window for everyone else:

LunaJulie Anne Peter's Luna
For families learning to accept a transitioning family member, Julie Anne Peter's 2004 YA novel, Luna, should be mandatory reading. Luna follows two key narratives. The first is about Liam secretly trying to become Luna. Luna, with the help of her sister Regan, tries on dresses and learns how to be a girl. Luna is lucky because she has such a supportive and loving sister – at least at first. The second storyline follows Regan's response to Liam becoming Luna. As the novel progresses, Regan begins to grow upset at Luna because her transgender identity causes Regan to have problems at school. Luna is about learning to love and accept family members for who they are – and who they might become.

ParrotfishEllen Wittlinger's Parrotfish
Ellen Wittinger's 2007 YA novel, Parrotfish, is a great read about a transgender youth coming out to his family. Born as Angela, Grady McNair fights to fit in to the world around him. He befriends the school's resident nerd, who presents a lovely metaphor that compares Grady to a parrotfish. According to Britannica, these kind of fish are "protogynous hermaphrodites; that is, they first function as females and later transform into males." The novel is funny, but it's also one that seriously looks at the difficult process of coming out.

I Am JCris Beam's I Am J
Cris Beam's 2011 YA novel, I Am J, is a story that inspires people to live as they feel they are meant to live. A teen known as J was born as a female, but this gender-path simply doesn't fit who he – notice the pronoun – is. Eventually, J sets out on a journey to prove to himself that he can be who he wants to be. The result is a touching novel that doesn't back down from the troubles that many young transgender teens face.

Beautiful Music for Ugly ChildrenKirstin Cronn-Mills' Beautiful Music for Ugly Children
Just as Wittlinger's Parrotfish uses an extended metaphor relating its protagonist to the titular fish, Kirstin Cronn-Mills' wonderfully accomplished Beautiful Music for Ugly Children (2012) finds its metaphor in music. You see, like a record, Elizabeth Williams has two sides: her A side and her B side. The A side is the one that everyone knows – Elizabeth; but the B side is Gabe, the quieter but perhaps better (and more honest) half. Cronn-Mills' novel follows the emerging Gabe and how he struggles to explain his new self to his friends, his family, and all of those people who know him.

Each of these novels is important. They deal with people trying to find their truths. Hopefully, these books will find a wide readership, and they will teach and inspire readers for years to come. The transgender community is still evolving, and novels with transgender characters will not only give support and comfort to kids experiencing their own transformations, but will also enhance how the rest of us understand their journey, and show us, perhaps, how we can help.

Filed under Reading Lists

Article by Bradley Sides

This "beyond the book article" relates to If I Was Your Girl. It originally ran in June 2016 and has been updated for the May 2017 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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