My name is Amanda. I’m 18. When you look at me, you might see that I’m pretty and popular; you might think my life is easy. But being me has never been easy. Because I haven’t always been Amanda. When I was born, I was named Andrew. Now, at my new school, I finally feel like myself. But do I owe my new friends the truth about my past?
As the book starts, Amanda is moving in with her father and starting in a new school following a suicide attempt after a brutal transphobic attack – a cry for help her parents couldn’t ignore. Amanda leaves the hospital after transitioning and is ready to live the life as the young girl she’s always been.
Amanda’s relationship with her parents is often strained. Though her mother seemed not to have been supportive at the start, the suicide attempt changed everything. The dad on the other hand finds it tough at first to get used to Amanda. Part of this is that he had always wanted to raise his child as a masculine boy and was harsh with Amanda in her youth, to make her fit in more with boys. This partly stemmed from fear and pride. Her parents are now separated, in some ways because of Amanda and her father’s treatment of her. Amanda is keen to get to a place where she and her father are comfortable with each other.
Amanda starts school and easily falls into a group of friends, finally able to be herself. Though she tells herself and others she doesn’t want to date – her father in particular is very concerned about the reaction of others if they find out about Amanda’s transition – she soon starts noticing a boy who notices her back. She also meets Bee – the two of them takes art classes together and become close.
This is where Amanda’s dilemma starts and it’s what I found the most interesting part of the book: disclosure. Amanda is now passing for the gender she is – does she have to disclose the gender she was assigned at birth? There are a lot of books about coming to terms with a one’s gender identity and also the beginning of transition but I liked the fact that this book explored what happens after. It’s interesting to see how Amanda’s thinking progresses. At first, she doesn’t disclose this fact in order to keep herself safe. But then, when she gets to know people better, she wonders whether she should be honest with her new friends. How dishonest is it not to disclose this part of her life?
I really enjoyed how layered the characterisation and the writing are in showing us Amanda and what happens after her coming out and her transition. I found the straight cis friends and LGBT friends (out or not out) to be a really interesting cast of characters.
I thought it was great that the book shows the trans support group to which Amanda belongs, and which helps her on her way to happiness. It can be so isolating and painful to have feelings of not fitting in and a room full of people who understand can do so much for your mental health. I very much liked the fact that none of the painful realities trans people have to go through were sugarcoated or omitted here. Not everyone has the same journey and for some people the pressure to fit in can be too much.
It is mentioned in the author’s foreword that Amanda’s story is fiction and not the norm. Though Amanda’s story has some dark moments, there is an element of hope and a world full of possibility for Amanda.
If I Was Your Girl is a fantastic addition to contemporary YA and also LGBTQIA YA and I’ll be looking out for Meredith Russo’s next book in future. If you love coming-of-age stories that talk about family, friendship and first love, then you shouldn’t miss this one!
Many thanks to Usborne for the review copy!