If I Was Your Girl is essentially a love story between a boy and a girl. The problem is that the girl used to be a boy. And the boy doesn’t know.
Amanda is leaving her old life behind and goes to live with her dad after an incident at school where she is badly beaten up. Her parents divorced when she was six. Her dad was a typical ex navy tough guy who wanted to teach his son baseball and his son wanted to do baking instead. ‘Andrew’ finally gets the courage to tell his mum that he wants to be a girl and she supports him through the process. He eventually has gender reassignment surgery but cannot seem to mix in at school. The other kids obviously knew him from before and he is mercilessly bullied. Eventually they decide that he should go and stay with his/ her dad who he hasn’t seen since the divorce.
At her new school, Amanda has never been Andrew and has no intention of telling anyone her secret. She is immediately chatted up but the local football team including a guy called Grant who is talking to her on behalf of his friend Parker. Amanda just wants to keep her head down and get on with school but, and this is mentioned many times over the course of the book, she is very attractive and can’t help getting male attention.
She falls in with a group of girls and meets another girl, Bee, in her art class who is bi sexual. She then figures out that Bee has something going with Chloe, who is in her friendship group but neither of them want anyone to know. This is small town America and people who are different are singled out. This reinforces Amanda’s desire to not tell anyone what is going on with her. But, her friends are really nice and she starts to live the life she has always dreamed of. She goes to parties, meets boys and generally does girlie things.
Amanda and Bee are supposed to take an art class together but the teacher is off sick and they have never covered it. They hang out and smoke dope and generally relax. Eventually Amanda tells Bee her secret and then things start to unravel. In the meantime, Amanda is falling in love with Grant. Grant is a lovely guy who really makes her feel special, but she doesn’t feel that she can tell him the truth, she is worried about his reaction. So she leaves it and lets the relationship continue. Her dad is also concerned about it, considering he was hoping that she would stay out of trouble. The ending is as you would expect but it is no less brutal for that.
Meredith Russo is transgender and has been living as a woman since 2013. I have read quite a lot of books recently about young people and how they are struggling with their sexuality. Some are good. Some are really not! In fact, there is a comment from Alex Gino on the back of the book and I really did not like their book, George (see review).
What I liked about this book was that it was so normal. Girl meets boy, they fall in love and should live happily ever after. You get glimpses of what Andrew’s life was like, the choices he makes, the support group and the number of people who can’t live with the prejudice and commit suicide. But, at the end of the day, Amanda is a someone who has already lived through a lifetime of pain and misunderstanding, and she is only 17. The subject was dealt with in a sensitive but truthful way, there will always be people in the world who hate what they don’t understand, and that’s just down to ignorance. I’m not sure that in this country they would allow a young person to go through all the surgery etc. at such a young age but he obviously felt it was the right thing for him. It’s a great book with a really important message that makes you think about the characters long after you have finished the book, and it gives me hope that the future is a more tolerant and welcoming place.