Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school in Lambertville, Tennessee. Like any other girl, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret. There’s a reason why she transferred schools for her senior year, and why she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.
And then she meets Grant Everett. Grant is unlike anyone she’s ever met—open, honest, kind—and Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself…including her past. But she’s terrified that once she tells Grant the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.
Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that she used to be Andrew.
Paola: I thought If I Was Your Girl was pretty good, but it’s not the type of book I usually read or enjoy. It’s a contemporary YA romance and coming of age, while I’m usually more of a speculative fiction fan. The last contemporary YA I really enjoyed was Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe.
Courtenay: I tend to avoid YA contemporaries because I don’t enjoy reading them very much, but there are always exceptions. I picked up this book because it was on sale on kindle and because I was intrigued by the premise and the representation. Transgender characters are not present in YA lit at the moment and this is an own voices novel (own voices meaning that the author is a part of the community they write about, generally used in reference to minority voices) I think I enjoyed the book a little more than you did. I am not a YA contemporary fan, but I loved the authentic depictions of young adult experiences. While some of the characters weren’t super developed (and I think that has to do with how short this book is) , I loved the focus on women’s relationships and the coming to terms with different types of identity.
P: Yeah, those were good aspects, even though the book had its flaws. I feel a little strange criticising the book though, because the author states that this was partly autobiographical, and who am I to say that experiences that seem like YA cliches weren’t part of the experience of being a trans girl in the South?
C: I agree. I am a white, middle class cis-gendered person, therefore my understanding of my identity and the way I engage with society is very different from Amanda’s. I was appreciative of the author notes at the back because they contextualized the story and brought some perspective to the issues the author engaged with. But I feel like I can’t critique the depiction of Amanda’s experience, especially because it provides a more normalized perspective of one person’s experience as a transgender woman.
P: Yeah! The author did address most of my problems in the back of the book, like how Amanda is super good at passing and constantly has people telling her how pretty she is. But I still think that there were some cliches I could have done without, like the instalove. At least there were no love triangles!
C: I agree about the instalove, you can see it coming from a mile away, but I think it is a little unfair to evaluate this as a traditional contemporary just because it is attempting to depict a different experience that you never see in contemporaries. Amanda is constantly aware of how she is presenting herself in every single social situation, she is hyper vigilant over her behaviour and the way she engages with others. You don’t see that in a traditional contemporary because generally the female protagonists main worry is the mean girl at school who wants to steal her crush/boyfriend. I feel like this story is so much more.
P: Yeah, I think that that’s what makes this book so special, Amanda’s hypervigilance and learning to let go. I think that the second half of the book was stronger for that, because it stops trying to introduce us to Amanda, we have most if not all of her backstory, and begins to move forward to Amanda being a teenager and getting into “shenanigans”.
C: Ya. I also think that the end of the book highlights the violence that is levelled against transgender women. It is uncomfortable and hard to read because you see the shift from Amanda being perceived as a girl by her peers,(Just to be clear Amanda is a girl, but I am just attempting to highlight the way gender is perceived in social settings), and receiving a certain amount of bodily respect for that and the shift to violence once she is revealed to be transgender.
P: Yeah, I saw “transgender” and “South” and went “oh no.”
C: I was really disappointed with the way Amanda was “outed” though.
P: Well, I think that it did what it was supposed to do- shock you, make you afraid and uncomfortable. I think it was handled kind of well.
Having the bi character as the bad guy might seem cliche, but I think that Russo did a good job of convincing us that she wasn’t actually very stable, and that she took Amanda’s rejection hard, so while what she did is inexcusable it’s not inexplicable.
C: I agree, but, gah, I wanted Amanda to tell her BF herself as opposed to having no control over what happened. If that makes sense.
P: To be fair, she tried! It didn’t come across to me like she had no agency, which was really nice to see.
C: Ya. Oh, one aspect I really appreciated seeing was the positive relationship Amanda has with her religion and identity.I thought that they were some of the most poignant moments of the book.
P: I was surprised that was an aspect! Of course there are religious LGBTQ+ people in the world, but so often you see the two in opposition to each other. I’m pretty sure that was probably one of the aspects that was from the author’s life, but I don’t want to say for sure.
C: So I guess what we are saying is that there need to be more narratives like this. Ones that are nuanced and are attempting to depict the lives of people who often don’t get represented in media in complex ways.
P: For sure! I love the #ownvoices movement, and I think it’s super important to have diverse protagonists in YA, whether it’s a story about coming out or a fun space adventure that happens to have transgender people in it, just for the fact that YA is such a good reference point for things that you haven’t had much experience with, and can act as a sort of guideline or reference.