Review – If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

I’m reviewing this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016. This book is what I read for #12 read a book by or about a person who identifies as transgender.

I was really excited about reading this book. I love YA fiction (if there is such a thing) and I thought that making the main character trans would add a new dimension that I hadn’t encountered before. I have a few trans friends so I’m broadly familiar (from an outsider perspective at least) with some of the issues that they face, not just from a transphobia perspective but also on a practical level (which bathroom do I use? Where do I buy clothes that will fit? What if I don’t want to wear makeup?) etc. I was expecting this book to touch on some of those areas – but it didn’t. Instead, it glossed over the entire transition process, assumed the young trans female ‘had won the genetic lottery in terms of passing’ (as female), took for granted that she would want (and indeed, could afford) all of the surgery and medical procedures to transition and that she would be a straight female who would move to a new town where no one would be able to tell.

In fairness, I read a note from the author at the back of the book, and she explained that she was terrified that cisgender readers would take the story as gospel, but that she wanted her readers to have no barriers to understanding the main character ‘as a teenage girl with a different medical history from most other girls’. I get that. I also understand that as this book is aimed at a younger audience that it may be a lot of readers first experience of a transgender person (real or imaginary) and that this is just a story about a girl meeting a boy. However, to me this came across as a little too simplistic. I think the character could have been much more interesting (and perhaps believable) if they had discussed some deeper issues. I don’t think that readers would have had any trouble understanding that the main character is just a teenage girl if, say, they were bisexual or hadn’t undergone all of the surgical procedures. Perhaps I’m just viewing the book from my liberal UK viewpoint though.

Having said that, I did enjoy the book. I liked that what could have been quite a formulaic story was given such a twist and that the overwhelming message was one of positivity and acceptance. I liked that the characters had flaws and the story was fast paced, sweet and thought provoking. I think this book is definitely worth a read – providing you accept that it is a work of fiction.

Overall rating: 7.5/10.

Footnote: I would also like to add that I’m well aware that as a cisgender reader I’m viewing this book from an outsider perspective with no real experience of the subject matter. I hope that I’ve conveyed my thoughts clearly and I’m always happy to discuss/learn more!