Book Review: If I Was Your Girl – Meredith Russo

If-I-Was-Your-Girl-Meredith-Russo-Book-Review

Title: If I Was Your Girl (2016)
Author: Meredith Russo
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBT
Extent: 288 pages
Release Date: May 3, 2016
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Goodreads Description

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.

Review

Let me just say first off that I believe, at a time where people are just starting to have open discussions on all things LGBT, If I Was Your Girl is an important book. It was written by a trans author, features a trans model on the cover, and is the story of a trans girl. If ever there was a book that actually helps diverse voices being heard, this book is probably it — but sadly, all of this doesn’t automatically make it a good book.

This book was a whole lot more light-hearted, a lot less emotional, and a lot easier than I expected it to be. The main character, Amanda, is trans and starting at a new school. Everyone thinks she is beautiful, and this is reinforced quite a lot by different people, for example:

“You’re new and you’re pretty. It’s not exactly rocket science.”

“I’m not pretty though.”

“Oh my God, whatever, yes you are. Jesus. The only thing worse than attractive people is attractive people who refuse to admit they’re attractive.”

And again by someone else:

“I know you’re one of the prettiest girls I’ve ever seen.”

And again by someone else:

“It was just that you were new, and pretty, and you just came in and got everything you wanted.”

And again by another someone else:

“The truth is that you’re my friend, Amanda. You’re one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever known, inside and out.”

It’s not that I don’t like pretty, good-looking protagonists; it’s just that there comes a point when this kind of thing feels a little too much for me. Her looks aren’t the only thing either — Amanda also makes friends and gets a boyfriend in what seems like minutes. At least three characters in this book explicitly declared their feelings for her, two of them in large, loud ways. She also ends up [spoiler] elected as the homecoming queen [/end spoiler] at her school dance later on.

Both Amanda’s parents are also incredibly supportive — with roadblocks, of course, but by god did they try. There is some tension with her dad, but I never once doubted that he just wants her to be happy. I’m not saying I want to see Amanda struggle more (OK, yes, I guess I want to see her struggle more); all I’m saying is that the plot seems very flat and lacks tension because of this.

“You can have anything,” she said, “once you admit you deserve it.”

Sadly, the characters in this book are also very flat, not to mention one-dimensional. Amanda didn’t have much of a personality — the only thing defining her was that she was born male. Her friends can also be defined by singular characteristics: Layla as the mother hen, Anna is a conservative Baptist, Chloe as the [spoiler] closeted lesbian [/end spoiler]. They seem perfectly interchangeable to me and probably could’ve been condensed into one character.

Grant, the love interest, isn’t much better. There is a bit of insta-love happening between Amanda and him, although to be fair to Russo, she did try to back this by having these two meet multiple times before they got into a relationship. Personally, however, these previous interactions were quite shallow and short — Amanda hadn’t known Grant for that long before she started ‘falling in love’ with him.

I hadn’t expected this, hadn’t planned for it, wasn’t ready yet. But my lips were still warm from the kiss, and I felt more alive than I ever had. Happier than any medication had ever made me.

I think the majority of my problem is because I had gone in with very specific expectations of what I wanted this book to be. I wanted it to be heart-breaking and emotional and revealing. I wanted Amanda’s relationships with the people around her to be difficult, and then to grow and develop from those obstacles. I wanted for me to sympathise with Amanda, to feel sorry for the struggles she went through and to root for her.

But none of these things happened, because everything works out and falls to place very easily. I’m happy for Amanda as a character, but as a reader, I’m not challenged. I’m bored. I’m uninterested… and I would be saying this too were this not an LGBT book and the protagonist also gets it their way every time.

Do I think this is an important, diverse story? Yes, absolutely, 100%. But did I enjoy my reading experience and find myself coming back for more? Not really, because as a fictional story, it kind of failed. There was too little tension, the character development was shallow, and the romance was lacklustre at best. Would I recommend it to other readers? Well, let me just leave you with this author’s note:

I’m worried that you might take Amanda’s story as gospel, especially since it comes from a trans woman. This prospect terrifies me, actually! I am a storyteller, not an educator. I have taken liberties with what I know reality to be. I have fictionalized things to make them work in my story. I have, in some ways, cleaved to stereotypes and even bent rules to make Amanda’s trans-ness as unchallenging to normative assumptions as possible.

If I were to sum up my thoughts on this book into one sentence, I think it’d be something like this: If I Was Your Girl is an important book, but it is not a good story.

NOTE: I wrote this review right before accusations of Meredith Russo raping and abusing her wife, Juniper Russo, surfaced on May 26, 2016. I debated against publishing it, but I ended up doing so because reviews for me are still about the book, not the author, and I stand by my opinion regardless.

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31 thoughts on “Book Review: If I Was Your Girl – Meredith Russo

  1. This was an interesting – and thought-provoking – review. It sounds like I would be in the same boat you were in. When I’m reading a book based around a diverse character, I want what makes them diverse to play a HUGE role in it.

    Speaking of which – have you read “On the Edge of Gone”? The main character is autistic, it’s written by a female with autism, and it’s an awesome sci-fi book.

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  2. This was a great review! I’ve heard similar things from a lot of people who read this book – on the topic of the excessive declarations of the MC being attractive, I have another issue with that. I have an issue with the idea that’s often perpetuated that a trans person is only ‘validated’ as being trans when they’re extremely conventionally attractive and can pass. As important as it is to normalize the fact that trans people can be JUST as stunning as cis people (and are), I think it’s really important to write about/provide representation of trans people who maybe aren’t conventionally attractive or passing – just to challenge the idea that a trans person must be passing to be written about in modern literature. Haha, this ended up being a longer rant than expected B

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much! I think I’d actually have that issue regardless of the genre/book in question – presumably once or twice is enough for us to believe that an MC is attractive; we certainly don’t need it to be repeated ten times throughout the story. I dunno. 😛

      But you brought up a really, really good point that I hadn’t thought of when I was writing this review, so thank you for that! It’s also probably true for many books out there, to be honest, LGBT-centric or not. Protagonists are usually good-looking (even when they think they’re not) or at least conventionally ‘passable’, and I wonder what a book with an actually conventionally unattractive protagonist would look like, though I admit that’ll probably be hard to write. It’ll be interesting to see how that translates to the trans books as well – what kind of challenges would the character face, and what kind of solutions would there be? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Fantastic review, Reg! I’m sorry this was so disappointing because it bought up some really great issues and topics. It’s a shame that it was all very conventional because of the reasons Katherine mentioned. And like you said it’s great that the MC wasn’t defined by the fact she was trans, but it definitely doesn’t seem to bring to light the struggles that a lot of Trans people have to deal with which is a shame.

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    • Thanks, Lauren! Yeah, it’s quite unfortunate – this book I think is important because it might raise awareness, but I’m not sure if it adds something to the LGBT narrative already out there, or if it even challenges existing assumptions people might have on what it’s like on being trans. Just not quite the book we need, I guess. 🙂

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  4. I understand what you mean by “it’s important and nice, but not a good book”. It’s so frustrating – there are lots of LGBT+ themed books being released lately, and most of them are just flat and disappointing, with nothing good about them except the LGBT+ aspect. *Sigh*. Oh well.

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  5. Ugh, so disappointed that the book wasn’t as emotional as I thought it would be! I get what you mean, I’m happy they’re “normalizing” LGBTQIA books, but I still want to read the challenges and struggles haha. This is a great review, looking forward to reading more from you! 🙂

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    • Glad you agree! In the future, when diverse books are no longer ‘diverse’, challenges and struggles might not be strictly necessary anymore as hopefully people are already way more accepting/understanding of the issues at hand, but right now I still think it’s quite important. Admittedly though I don’t read a lot of LGBT+ books so perhaps someone who does read a lot of those and does find a lot of (fictional) challenges and struggles in those books might feel like this particular book is unique and good. 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a great review Reg! It’s just a shame you didn’t enjoy the book that much. I mean, on one hand it’s great to see more books being released with LGBT themes but on the other there needs to be an interesting story to go with it if not it feels like the book is relying solely on the LGBT factor to be successful. And yeah, I’m not a fan of insta-love much either. I hate love triangles more but insta love is definitely up there on my list of hated YA tropes :/

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    • Thank you! Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel – like just because it contains a diverse element doesn’t mean it’s a good fictional story. Haha, I think I’m probably more annoyed by insta-love than love triangles… but I find the latter kind of annoying too, most of the time. 😛

      Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly, and it’s great that there’s more representation out there but I think most of us are readers because we want to read good stories, if a book doesn’t have that it doesn’t matter how diverse it is because you can’t replace a good story with representation. Ideally there needs to be both.
        The worst is when you have both in one book, which I have literally just read :/

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        • Yeah, definitely. If this were non-fiction, my review would read very, very differently. 😛

          I assume you meant The Crown’s Game. SO SAD ABOUT IT, BETH. I loved the whole concept and I haven’t read the book but reviews are coming in and most of them I think are kind of negative.

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  7. I’d actually planned to pass on this book until I found out that the author was trans, herself. That was enough to get me fairly excited about it–and now your review’s brought me up super short.

    I’ll admit, though, that I’m so tired of “heartbreaking” LGBTQIA+ books. A book needs conflict, for sure, and this book clearly doesn’t have enough (well, any) of it–but if you’d deemed this a truly heartbreaking book, I would’ve crossed it off my TBR. We need more LGBTQIA+ books that AREN’T tragedy and sobbing and the mere hint of hope at the end. I want to see trans/ace/whatever protagonists solving mysteries and winning the state-level sports tournament and making out with vampires and whatever else straight-cis protagonists get to do.

    Sorry, got a little ranty there. *Wince.*

    In short: if this book had to fall on either the “heartbreaking” side or the “conflict-free” side, I’d choose “conflict-free” for sure. LGBTQIA+ kids get more than their fair share of heartbreak stories; let them relax with some fluffy wish-fulfillment every once in a while, just like their straight-cis peers.

    But yeah, ideally there’d be actual conflict for the heroine to face and overcome. Bah.

    I think I’ll probably read the book anyway, if only to support the author. I don’t think I’ve ever read a trans-lead book by a trans author, and I am BEYOND ready for those books to be on the shelves.

    Thanks for the excellent review! I’ll enjoy the book a lot more than I would’ve if I’d walked into it blind, expecting it to be good. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aww, sorry about that! See, that is a very important point you brought up about not wanting LGBT books to be “heartbreaking”, and I guess this is where our reading experiences really become coloured by what we usually read. I admittedly don’t read a lot of LGBT novels, so when I do, I suppose I *want* my emotions to be challenged by what these novels have to offer. It doesn’t need to be heartbreaking (though in this particular case I want it to be), but it does, for me, need to have some sort of an emotional impact.

      This book ISN’T heartbreaking at all, which is fine if it’s well-written in that it has a coherent plot and has some sort of tension, but it’s just not. It might however be up your alley — I think there’s definitely an element of wish fulfilment there (and I’ve heard some Goodreads reviews describe it as so), and the author’s note kind of implies it.

      Anyway! I’m super curious to know what your thoughts may be for this book, given your perspective, so I’m really looking forward to you reading it. Thanks for your very thought-provoking comment. 😛

      Liked by 1 person

      • You kicked on a very important light bulb for me.

        I wonder if some straight/cis people (and perhaps some LGBTQIA+ people who “pass” as straight/cis) might want LGBTQIA+ stories with heartbreaking themes (murder, suicide, depression, rejection, homelessness, etc.) to better empathize with those who’ve experienced horrible discrimination–to walk that mile in their shoes.

        While on the other hand, people within the LGBTQIA+ community might be more likely to be fed up with the heartbreak and want to see themselves as heroes and heroines, spies and sports stars and dragon-riders.

        They’re two different and very valid perspectives, each wanting to achieve different things from LGBTQIA+-lead books.

        I still believe we need a dramatic increase in the number of non-heartbreaking books, but this makes me a lot less ragey about heartbreaking ones that are out there! If people want to empathize with those who’ve experienced discrimination, more power to them.

        Thank you for making me think about different perspectives like this! 🙂

        I’m 100% certain my opinion of the book will be exactly yours; your critiques are always on-point, and I fully trust your judgment. But I’ll definitely keep you posted when I get around to reading it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hmm, speaking personally as a straight/cis person, I think books with ‘heartbreaking’ themes come across to me as more… realistic? Like I love reading non-fiction and memoirs exactly for this reason, because I get to see from another perspective and kind of understand (though never fully) what it’s like to live such a life.

          All that being said, though, I certainly don’t mind seeing more LGBTIA+ characters as heroes and heroines like you said. I think it’s just a matter of genre in this case… like with sci-fi/fantasy/non-contemporary I wouldn’t mind that their LGBTIA+-ness isn’t central to the theme or part of the conflict (would in fact love that), but with contemporaries like this, that push or market themselves as a trans story, of course I want that to be a theme.

          I completely agree that we need a dramatic increase in the number of non-heartbreaking LGBTIA+ books, though I think heartbreaking or not, it’d be good to have more in the market.

          No worries, Liam, and thank you for making me think as well! This was an interesting discussion, and I’m glad that you trust my judgment. 🙂

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  8. DAMN. I was actually contemplating reading this one, but now I think I’m going to pass. It sucks because this could’ve been a powerful story. Instead it sounds like the use of excessive tropes made this into another fluffy read.

    That news story is crazy. I have no words.

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    • I haven’t read a lot of reviews for this and I’m kind of hoping more people will read it so I can understand just how much of my reaction is subjective, haha. I would say though that if you’re looking for stronger books where LGBT is a real focus, this one probably isn’t it, which is just really unfortunate.

      Yeah, it was a bit of a surprise find. Definitely not pleasant. 😦

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