Meredith Russo’s debut novel about a transgender girl in Georgia, If I Was Your Girl, is a unique form of brave in terms of facing down literary stereotypes in bringing greater LGBT+ diversity to YA bookshelves. Russo herself is trans, and was beautifully able to convey her own triumphs and struggles in transitioning while still managing to write a character that is very relatable to teenage girls, trans or cis. This novel is a wonderful breakthrough in teen literature regarding LGBT+ diversity. Not only does it feature LGBT+ main characters in a Young Adult novel, but it also allows them to be normal teens rather than martyrs or flat characters inserted for diversity.
If I Was Your Girl centers around a young trans girl named Amanda as she moves to her father’s town for a fresh start after transitioning. Originally from Atlanta, Amanda was bullied during her transition, which, when compounded with personal struggles regarding identity, lead to a suicide attempt. All of her internal struggles were compounded by a transphobic attack in a mall bathroom. To take a breather, she moves deeper into the South to live with her father, who has her best interests at heart. At her new school in his district, she blossoms, and the story pans out like a classic high school novel for a while. She makes friends, catches the eye of the quarterback, all of the classic teen movie tropes. However, she must keep her identity as trans a secret, even though she knows it could get out with one wrong move. As the school year progresses, the pressure builds in her life because of near-slips as she strives to maintain this wonderful new life and keep herself safe. The most pressing question of the book is whether she can do both at once.
Russo treated characters of all identities with incredible dignity. Russo’s portrayal of every type of person as capable of love and acceptance warmed my heart. The positive framing of this story makes it one that I would recommend to friends looking for LGBTQ+ YA literature. I personally felt that this book was a shining example of a high-quality story augmented by the author’s perspective and proximity to the material. The status of the author as a trans person lent the book important authenticity.