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REVIEW: If I Was Your Girl – Meredith Russo

Honestly, I don’t know where to start with this. I’ve always just told myself that I’m awful at reviews, and to leave them far far away, for other people to write, and honestly I’m a little scared to attempt this. But you know what? 2017 is the year of facing fears, I think (maybe) and I’d like to start writing reviews. So here goes (cue superior-sounding and intimidating review-er voice)…

If I Was Your Girl – Meredith Russo

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If I Was Your Girl tells the, frankly overdone, story of a young girl who has to start a new school, and her struggles through making new friends, first loves and parent troubles. It’s one of those basic story premises that’s been done and done a thousand times over, the world over. I’m sure that no matter the culture, religion, race, every teenage girl has once wanted to read about the life of another teenage girl.

But with this, there’s something different.

And it’s not something that you have to wait until the last page for, either (which is something I personally don’t have the patience for). From the get-go (even the blurb, actually), we – the audience – are aware that Amanda, our beautiful, smart, nerdy and mysterious protagonist, used to be known as Andrew.

Meredith Russo’s debut novel details the post-transition Amanda’s life as she tries to make it safely from high school to the World Beyond – something of which I’m sure we can all relate to. But Meredith’s life as a trans woman has enabled her to transform a somewhat over-done story into one that I think – honestly – everyone should read. Or at least read about. The simple fact of the matter is: there aren’t enough stories about trans people.

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Now, as much as I could, I’m not going to make this post about trans issues. It is not my place, nor my right to address issues faced by those in the trans community.I have never faced gender identity issues, and I can’t imagine ever doing so, and that is where I will leave my knowledge on the subject. However, if a trans person, or someone struggling with gender identity issues is reading this: I support you, you are brave and amazing and you are not alone. If you need someone to talk to, I am here.

Now that that is out of the way, I’m going to continue by saying that this review is not going to address the serious matters of gender identity, transgenderism and social inequalities, as I simply haven’t got the words – or the authority – to do so. I will, however, review this book as a book. 

If I Was Your Girl, while hugely important and eye-opening for someone who is cis-gendered and uneducated, could have been better, book-wise.

The subject matter, while fascinating and wonderful in its modest glory (Amanda’s brief descriptions of the transition process I felt were a nice way to satisfy reader’s curiosities, while remaining steadfast in her secretive nature, and were well played-down by the author), could have been paced much better.

My biggest problem with IIWYG was simply the pacing. I felt this book could have been light-years longer. It felt rushed, and because of this, characters and their actions often felt unrealistic, and it could sometimes feel as though Meredith – the author – knew things that the audience didn’t, but forgot, and described scenes and emotions as thus.

While I can see the advantages of trying to write a book – particularly a YA book, as this is intended – that is long enough to be a story, while being short enough to keep young reader’s attentions, I felt this was just not long enough. There simply wasn’t enough space to put all the emotions of someone who has been through so much, on paper in just under 300 pages. I often felt as though, if I were in Amanda’s situation, I’d need a hell of a lot more time to digest some information and make some decisions, than she did. But that’s just me.

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Some may complain that IIWYG was too shallow. That it only tread the very shortest of depths that LGBTQIA+ fiction could do, but I think that’s enough. For now, at least. The general public may still be wary of literature that dives too deep into the minds and bodies of those who aren’t “normal” (and I use that term sarcastically, if you didn’t guess), and, while some of us may be ready to dive deep, the world might not be yet. Baby steps.

But, If I Was Your Girl did exactly as it was supposed to, and for that I commend it. It made me laugh. It made me sad and angry. It made me love Amanda and Virginia and Layla and Grant. It made me hate others. It made me feel that first-love, first-kiss, first-everything feeling that we all crave sometimes. And it made me more aware. 

And for a mainstream, published, printed and talked about book (If I Was Your Girl has actually been featured in Zoella’s book club with W H Smith for this year, which is incredible and huge for the author, to have someone as influential as Zoe recommending this story to her millions of avid fans…) to hold such power and knowledge. The power to turn attention towards this issue that the world faces (by issue I mean transphobia and homophobia, etc), is fantastic.

I urge you all to pick up this book (or download it.. whatever you fancy), and just try it. Your age, your gender, your sexuality, your reading preferences do not matter. You should read this, for your own education.

Thanks guys, let me know if I did OK for my first book review (that’s been published on this site). Also let me know what’s on your reading lists for 2017, I need recommendations!

Jess x

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