Thoughts: If I Was Your Girl

Blogger and writer  originally posted this essay on the children’s literature blog The Book Wars. It is reprinted with permission and thanks.

  ifiwas

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 … — [X]

This year I have started being a bit of a stickler for certain kinds of diverse books i.e. books by/about people/characters whose voices and cultures are often appropriated by the (possibly well-meaning, but *shrug*) dominant peoples in the literary world. Every #OwnVoices book I read is something of a treasure. Reading authors whose experiences are reflected in their stories feels like a bit of a rebellion against the norm of treating diversity like a trend and treating real people’s experiences and stories as marketable/fashionable/fictional in the worst possible way/eventually disposable. (Sorry this has been a very forward slash friendly paragraph.)

To me, If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo is one of the most important #OwnVoices books that I’ve read this year, or even in the past two years. Correct me if I’m wrong, but in YA, at least, this is a first. The main character is trans, the author herself is trans, and the cover model–whose is not pictured with as a headless torso or as a sexy silhouette as YA cover designers are wont to do–Kira Conley is also trans. The story itself has a similar feel to E. K. Johnston’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear simply because this is a story that is both real and hopeful–not mutually exclusive, you see–but does not ignore the difficult aspects of Amanda’s story. It is an important book, I feel, both for trans readers and cis readers and that’s yet another thing that sets this book apart from other YA books with trans characters–it is not solely for the comfort of knowledge of cis readers.

Pretty much every other page of my copy of If I Was Your Girl has been folded down, but the quotes I want to talk about are mostly from interviews with Russo who, like her protagonist, is brilliant in every conceivable way. First:

A huge number of trans books I’ve read aren’t really about the trans character but, rather, about a cis narrator’s feelings about the trans character’s transition or existence, and I hate it. Maybe it’s because I’m trans, but I care way more about how the trans character feels than any cis characters. — [X]

Yes. More of this, please. I absolutely hate when a marginalized person/character has to apologize for making privileged people/characters uncomfortable. I don’t expect trans people or disabled people or anyone whose experiences are different from mine, to hold my hand, or squeeze my shoulder, or be my feminist mommy. Perhaps the most heart-breaking moment of the novel was when Amanda’s father–who is rather slow to accepting that he has a daughter–calls her brave:

“I’m not brave,” I said, smiling despite myself. “Bravery implies I had a choice. I’m just me, you know?” — (255)

So many trans people are forced to put cis people at ease because the alternative is being emotionally, verbally, and/or physically abused, or even killed–especially if you’re a trans person of colour. Being called brave is often a compliment, but here it is an incredibly twisted word to offer Amanda. This leads me to my second quote:

There’s this terrible, awful line you’re going to have to walk between compromise and marketability. The fact of the matter is that cis audiences are going to be the people buying most of your books, and huge numbers of cis people know so little about us that they’re blown away by The Danish Girl (this is the second interview where I’ve thrown this movie under the bus and it won’t be the last). — [X]

Even in publishing, there is a risk in not catering to cis readers. It’s frustrating enough for me, but I can’t imagine how abhorrent a line it is for trans writers to walk, even as they do something they love. Russo, as she says in her first quote, is determined to do more for trans readers–and it shows in If I Was Your Girl. Right from the dedication, Russo makes her intentions clear.

Now, this isn’t really a review. I’m mostly just pointing out things I’ve been considering and stuff I hope others will consider as they read Russo’s debut, but I do want people to pick this one up, so, here’s why you need to go and do just that: so much of young trans people’s lives are about survival–which this novel definitely addresses–but Amanda Hardy wants (and, arguably, gets) more out of life and that’s what makes this book as important and wonderful as it is. Definitely recommended.

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