BookBrowse Reviews If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

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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

    Paperback:
    May 2017, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Bradley Sides
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The secret that Amanda's been keeping is that at her old school, she used to be Andrew.

Who defines us? Do we ourselves, or does the society in which we live? Meredith Russo's poignant young adult debut, If I Was Your Girl, takes readers on a moving journey through the burdening talk of establishing identity.

Not too long ago, Andrew Hardy was living a lie. He was bullied, depressed, and lost. Not only did he not belong to any social groups, he didn't even fit into his own body. Andrew reasoned, "I think I could deal with just being gay or whatever. It feels wrong that I'm a boy, though. When my hair gets long and people mistake me for a girl, I feel happy. I try to imagine what kind of man I'll grow up to be, and nothing comes." Then, Andrew admitted his most private secret: "The only time I feel like I have a future at all is if I imagine I'm a girl in it." And so he found his peace by living the future he imagined. He transitioned to someone else - his real self. Andrew Hardy became Amanda Hardy.

At first, Amanda struggles with many of the same issues that plagued Andrew's life. She is assaulted in a bathroom and has to move across the state of Tennessee to live with her father. She, like Andrew, questions how she will fit in with the new high school cliques around her. Soon, though, Amanda finds herself adjusting to her new identity. She begins to make girl friends, and she meets a kindhearted boy named Grant, who quickly becomes a love interest. She is finally living life as the girl she always knew that she was. There is only one problem left: no one knows anything about Amanda's past. She struggles to find the right time (and way) to tell her friends and Grant her secret. She wants to be honest with them, but she also wants to protect herself. Who is the right person to tell? Who can she trust with knowing her past life? Will her unexpected admission cause her life to be like it was once before?

YA novels that feature outsiders as their protagonists often vilify the stereotypically popular clique – the jocks and the cheerleaders – but If I Was Your Girl offers that both the popular clique and the outsiders are multidimensional. They can be both harmful and positive – to each other and to themselves. The result is a strong call for people to be viewed as individuals and not as groups. Russo praises individuality and how wonderful and inspiring it can be.

Russo's timely novel shows, with a quiet confidence, a young woman finding her way in an often condescending and misunderstanding world. Amanda's gradual building of self-assurance, while balancing her internal doubts of trust, creates a tension that gives If I Was Your Girl a mighty heft of authenticity. It's an important contemporary story, and should enlighten a new generation on transgender issues.

If I Was Your Girl is an extremely kind novel. Sure, there are episodes of tension and cruelty, but goodness prevails at the heart of the story. It's the sort of novel that makes you want to step out and hug somebody – or even hug yourself. Grant tells Amanda, "Everybody's got a past." Then, he continues, "That doesn't mean you can't have a future." His inspiring words exemplify why Meredith Russo's book will make readers believe that the best is still yet to come for humanity.

Reviewed by Bradley Sides

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in June 2016, and has been updated for the May 2017 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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