During the ALA Conference in Orlando, our library branches won grants to bring around 15 teens to present their opinions on YALSA’s BFYA nominees. The teens loved raiding the schwag from the Exhibits Hall, and even though we tried, we couldn’t get them to stop hoarding. Not that we would purposely discourage anyone from getting free books, but these guys had 10 overflowing bags each with handles snapping. This load had to be carried back to the car and smooshed in the trunk. I swear my car’s rear end sunk, dragging us along, weighed down by signed books, sunglasses, posters, and comics. In one last raid, a few teens caught up with Meredith Russo, who they instantly fell in love with. She signed their books, chatted them up, and a year later, she even Skyped in for their book club. One of my girls brought me back a signed copy of Russo’s book, If I Was Your Girl, and I am so glad that she did.
If you love young adult and intense romance, If I Was Your Girl will keep you up all night reading. Suspenseful, heartbreaking, and moving, I was so worried what would happen to courageous and beautiful, Amanda. I loved Amanda from the start and even her flawed but honest family.
The story begins with Amanda, who used to be Andrew, who has fully transitioned and moved in with her father in Tennessee to finish her senior year safely and as the woman that she has always felt that she is. No one knows about her past, which makes this a clean start. Amanda’s previous life had involved the constant threat to her life, beatings from bullies at school, and a suicide attempt. In Lambertville, Amanda is instantly embraced by a mix of girlfriends—including those who are deeply religious to girls who are afraid to come out—and becomes an interest to many of the guys. She is beautiful and intuitive. Although promising to lay low with the goal to head to NYU, Amanda begins to fall in love with Grant, a football star and surprisingly well rounded and hardworking guy. The feelings are mutual, and Grant continually amazes Amanda with his geeky prom antics and romantic tree house escapes. Both teens have their secrets, but with Amanda’s at risk of coming out, everything is on the verge of imploding—especially when alcohol and jealousy are added into the mix.
Relatable and inspiring, Russo opens the dialogue for transgender families and brings to light gender identity, bullying, emotional stress, and personal conflict in the most raw and endearing way. Somehow, Russo beautifully pairs the seriousness and intensity with themes of growing up, love, and friendship. By the time Amanda gets her ears pierced, I am ready to start dancing. More realistically, Russo effectively makes everyone wholesome and true through imperfections. I found myself cheering for everyone who tried, who changed, and even those who failed. I felt like I was reliving high school, and the ending could not have been more perfect.
You have to pick up this book. If I Was Your Girl won a Stonewall and has received endless accolades.
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (Flatiron Books, 2016)