Title: If I Was Your Girl
Author: Meredith Russo
Publisher: Macmillan/Flatiron Books
Length: 288 Pages
Category: Contemporary Romance, Teen Romance
At a Glance: There is a reason this book has won so many awards and garnered all the accolades. It is, hands down, one of the most candidly beautiful novels I’ve read so far this year.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.
But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.
Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love?
Review: There is a brief Afterward at the end of If I Was Your Girl in which author Meredith Russo addresses her readers and explains some of the motivation behind the creation of this novel as well as the choices she made in the telling of her heroine’s story. I am fully cognizant of the fact that my lane begins and ends at respecting those choices, and that own-voices matter, and that representation matters, and that Russo has created a character in Amanda Hardy who is strength and courage personified. She has experienced life in a way I never have, or will, and if the author took some liberties in the telling of her story, so be it. What matters, when all is said and done, is that this novel is as heartfelt, poignant, and as perfect as Russo intended it to be—from the hopes and fears of a teenage girl who is a work in progress, trying to carve out her place in the world, all the way down to the affirmative context of the book’s title.
It’s a testament to Russo’s word-crafting that I was engaged by Amanda from the opening scenes of her story. Told largely in the present, readers are offered flashbacks as well, and while it’s a device that can sometimes burden the pace of a story, it was the ideal narrative choice here. Giving us a glimpse into where Amanda began not only plays into the active, declarative intent of the title, but it also offers a candid look into what it means to come to terms with and then to live one’s own truth. When we meet Amanda, she’s on a bus, in the midst of a different sort of transition—leaving her mom’s home in Georgia to live with her dad in Tennessee, to spend her senior year at a new high school, to get a fresh start in a place where no one knows why she feels the need to “go completely stealth.”
One of the liberties Russo admits to taking in her Afterward is the fact that Amanda has undergone gender confirmation surgery, something that in reality would have been both cost and age prohibitive, but it is not taken lightly. Amanda is supported by parents who love her, and while she is offered the chance to live her truth in a way that may not be presented in a fully factual way, it’s something I felt was integral to the story’s objective—not to prove to readers that Amanda is a young woman, she was a young woman before she underwent surgery, but to place Amanda in lock-step with who she is, mind and body, and to then allow me insight into her thoughts and feelings and emotions even as all the creeping doubts and fears she bears nip at her on a near-constant basis. We are with Amanda the first time she looks into a mirror and sees the girl she is, has always been on the inside, and that euphoric moment happening after her suicide attempt was such a riveting and celebratory scene. The opportunity to relate to a character on any level, let alone in a deeper and more insightful way, is so essential to embracing a story, which I did in every single way.
The Teen Romance market is filled to abundance with stories of high school drama and first love. While If I Was Your Girl contains some of the same, it also resonates on a level well above and beyond the typical; there is a reason this book has won so many awards and garnered all the accolades. As Amanda can’t help but make new friends, despite her desire to exist under the radar, she struggles with trust and the always underlying fear that someone will discover the secret she keeps. Amanda becomes in this story, and it is an evolution of hopes and dreams and falling for the kindest and most charming boy in school. It is also a hard jolt of betrayal, and the violent aftermath of that betrayal, and the aftershock of it, and then Amanda proving once and for all that she not only deserves happiness but she owns her right to it. I loved her in every single way, and I appreciated the way Russo wraps up the story—not with unrealistic promises but with the practicality that Amanda’s life is only just beginning, and her future will happen one day at a time.
“For as long as I could remember, I had been apologizing for existing, for trying to be who I was, to live the life I was meant to lead. Maybe this would be the last conversation I would have with Grant. Maybe not. Either way, I realized I wasn’t sorry I existed anymore. I deserved to live. I deserved to find love. I knew now—I believed, now—that I deserved to be loved.”
If I Was Your Girl is, hands down, one of the most candidly beautiful novels I’ve read so far this year.
You can buy If I Was Your Girl here:
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