Meredith Russo was recently interviewed by School Library Journal on diversity with her debut book If I Was Your Girl, which came at an awesome time as I’d just finished the book last week. Within the week, also making sure I returned it to the public library after booktalking it to a group of other librarians at a book club and adding multiple copies to our next order for the school library.
The premise is that Amanda is going to live with her father after a beating in a mall bathroom in the town where she currently lives with her mother. Thinking that Amanda can start fresh in a new place, the obstacles of truly being accepted by her father and then being a girl in a new school are enough to wreck her nerves. But, things are settling in well and Grant, a kind-hearted boy, has already taken an interest in her. And while she wants to tell Grant about her being born a boy, his insistence that he’s not interested in any “secret” puts Amanda at ease. For the first time, allowing herself to truly enjoy being herself, though she has told another girl she befriended at school.
It’s a strategically told story with a crisp voice that is neither too flowery nor too pointed. There is a comfort in Russo’s storytelling that allows for a bit of complacency before another traumatic event unfolds, sending chaos into Amanda’s life yet again. It’s the characters, from Amanda and Grant to her father that explore the emotions of a trans experience. I think it’s a cut above others in its categorization, serving a more rounded understanding of transitioning still feeling guarded, a necessary measure to protect oneself. It explores religion and homophobia, secret-keeping, and family.
It’s got a provocative title and cover that compliment each other, which is where I always start with a book. Then add to it an author’s note about Russo’s own experience and it’s a book needing to be on everyone’s shelf to read and then share widely.