If I Could Hug a Book With the Entirety of My Self // Author: Meredith Russo // Rating: 5/5
Synopsis: A new kind of big-hearted novel about being seen for who you really are.
Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.
But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.
Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love?
Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl is a universal story about feeling different and a love story that everyone will root for.
How to start this review other than: this book is gorgeously well-written, gets teenagedom very right, and breaks my heart while simultaneously stitching it back together. Bless this little book. Thank you, Russo, for writing a brilliantly true coming-of-age novel.
Now to dive into the particulars! And there will be spoilers, the most sensitive in white text you can highlight to reveal.
TW/CW: transmisic/transphobic & homomisic/homophobic plot points and slurs, mention of suicide and description of suicide attempt, mention of past rape, description of violent attempted sexual assault, a forced public outing
The Girl Herself
Amanda is amazing and her voice is so strong and her growth throughout If I Was Your Girl is wonderful. The strength Amanda has that claws its way to the surface, a quiet storm at the rightness that her life starts to attain, that was beautiful to read. I could quote almost everything she says, lol, it’s that lovely. And this book has some of the most effective use of flashbacks I’ve ever read. Amanda is still healing during the current timeline, but she has such inner strength that eventually blossoms outward.
God wanted me to live, and this was the only way I knew how to survive, [not sharing her past at the moment], so this was what God wanted. This was what I wanted. I had chosen to live, and it seemed like, finally, I was doing just that.
The Girl and Her Parents
I really could separate this section out for both Mom and Dad, but I don’t want to make this review too long. Suffice it to say, Amanda’s parents are amazing people and Russo writes them so well and nuanced. They are flawed, not perfect parents. They don’t react with easy acceptance of their daughter’s transition, but they love their daughter. And honestly, their conversations (especially chapter 32, which focused so much on Amanda’s dad talking to his daughter, calling her brave, and saying “goodbye” to Andrew) were so important and realistic and ultimately heartwarming. I’m not a parent, I’m not trans, but when I read this family, I loved them all, and was grateful for the parents’ ability to learn, and to ask for forgiveness, and to lovelovelove their child, through their fear of the world and all its monsters.
This felt like the moment I had wanted with Mom [getting makeup advice] since I was old enough to know I wanted anything at all.
Being a girl in this world means being afraid. That fear’ll keep you safe. It’ll keep you alive.
I’m not brave. Bravery implies I had a choice. I’m just me, you know?
It ain’t your responsibility to comfort your parents. It ain’t your responsibility to comfort your parents. [repetition mine, I don’t think I’ve ever read that sentiment from the parent in a YA novel]
Yeah, more of this in YA, please and thank. This family is little and broken, but still good.
Girl Meets Boy
I loved Grant. Russo knows her characters. And Grant is just (mostly) wonderful. He has a chip on his shoulder because he’s poor, and he’s not some manic pixie dream boy, he sounded and felt real. Boy was flirting with Aladdin and Han and Leia quotes!! And that “promposal” (lordy what a word) was so f///ing cute. There were so many fluffy cute moments in this story. Bless.
Grant is open and kind and listens, probably in large part because of his stressful upbringing and past losses. People like Grant exist // people that can still love through their trauma. People like Amanda. So I appreciated that about him.
If people drive you to something, then it’s their responsibility.
Sometimes bad stuff happens that a few nice words can’t fix. I get it.
The Girl and Her Amazing Squad
Honestly, these girls snuck up on me. I spent a lot of the book enamored with Bee, artist/rebel/cynic, and that is one of the great things about this book. There are plenty of signs about a couple of characters that they’re not as nice or as understanding (or as misunderstood) as you want to believe. So Amanda’s true squad // Layla, Chloe, Anna, and her support group mentor, Virginia // are brilliant, in that they are nuanced real people, but they love their friend and are there for her to the end. I think maybe I differentiated between them pretty well because I basically went back and reread the book for this review, so they’re not wholly fleshed out, but they’re all still amazing girls and I would definitely read more about their lives post-Lambertville High.
You can have anything, once you admit you deserve it. [Virginia]
Don’t you dare talk about my friend that way. [Layla to Amanda after Amanda calls herself a “freak.”]
Amanda and Her Monsters
There are several devastating and awful things that happen to Amanda in this book, unfortunately not all in the past. And my biggest quibble with the ending is wrapped up and pretty inseparable from the awful reality of rape culture. I am absolutely saddened that Amanda chose not to pursue prosecuting Parker for his attempted rape and physical assault of her. I am upset that she and other characters let him off basically, especially with the knowledge of what Bee went through with her rape and survivor’s guilt. Parker could hurt someone else… But I also understand why she didn’t push for police action.
The last thing I wanted was for a nurse to take pictures of me. The last thing I wanted was for a night spent with police officers who had probably already heard about me by now, and wanted to ask questions about my private parts instead of about what had happened. I just wanted to forget everything about tonight. I wanted it to be over.
In some ways, this novel is ahead of its time, because it allows Amanda to just be herself, as a young woman with a different medical history than cis women, even though, at this moment in time, that would be hard, especially financially. In other ways, it’s very much of this time, especially in regards to how the ending shaped up.
But what an ending otherwise. So f///ing hopeful. So beautiful. Amanda deserves love and to be loved, and even if that’s not with Grant, she deserves to live as herself, and I truly think in the context of this book, with her friends and family around her, and within this sad, strange, lovely world of ours, that’s possible.
Amanda is not every trans girl // Russo has an author’s note detailing why she simplified some things (Amanda’s medical history) and how it’s “easy to get hung up on these points if you haven’t lived our lives though, so I wanted to set those aside.” I’m grateful for this AN as a cis reader, because I think it addresses any “wish-fulfillment/too-good-to-be-true” reactions to this story. I saw similar reactions to This Is How It Always Is, a novel about a family with a trans daughter written by the mother of a trans daughter. I think that’s bullsh*t; dismissing this story because it has a “happy” or unrealistic ending. Much like Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, this is a story about how everyone deserves a great love story, or even just to live as themselves. Amanda’s life was not easy, it will never be simple, but she is brave, and she is kind, and she is living. And I’m grateful to have shared in her story, and it will stick with me for a long time.
I closed my eyes, placed the [hormone] pill on my tongue, and washed it down with a sweet, bubbling sip of soda. Then I lay my head back down, closed my eyes, and bathed in moonlight, letting myself dream of how good life could be every now and then.