by Meredith Russo, 2016
I kind of hate fairy tales. Not the Brothers Grimm sort, which are actually quite gruesome and only vaguely resemble the stories we were told as kids, and not even really the Disney sort, because I can’t lie that, as much as it rankles my inner feminist, I still enjoyed Beauty and the Beast. No, I mean those stories where someone with a “problem” – they have a string of failed relationships, they are clumsy, they (gasp!) have curly hair and glasses – overcomes said “problem” to live happily ever after. I realize there is some comfort in knowing that we are all lovable despite our differences, but this sort of trite plot and predictable ending are far from new and far from interesting.
If I Was Your Girl focuses on Amanda Hardy, a new high school student in a sparsely populated town. Having been the victim of violence at her previous school, Amanda’s mother ships her off to start over with her dad in the hopes that a new town where no one knows her secret will be the best place for her to flourish. Amanda is a beautiful teenage girl who all the guys want to be with and who all the girls want to be, except for the one thing they don’t know: she was born Andrew. The story follows Amanda as she makes friends, learns to trust, and embarks on her first relationship with a boy. Of course, Amanda’s secret must come to the forefront at some point and she’s left to figure out what true friends are and what she deserves as a fully realized human being.
What’s different about If I Was Your Girl is simply that the protagonist is a trans woman. I agree that that’s monumental and we need more stories featuring all different sorts of people living all different sorts of lives. What I find less compelling about the story is that it’s no different from any of the other “ugly duckling” stories shoved down our throats – you know, the ones where all the girl has to do is straighten her hair and put in contacts and suddenly she’s worthy of people’s attention. Amanda is supremely feminine in appearance and has fully transitioned, making it much easier for her to guard her secret. I understand Russo’s intentions in doing this were to make Amanda as relatable a character as possible for cisgender readers – she states this as such in her author’s note – however, this is still your basic Cinderella story and I was disappointed to find that it didn’t go too far beyond that mold.
Nevertheless, I recognize that I’m probably not the target audience for this piece of writing and that’s perfectly fine. We cisgender, heterosexual folks have had fairy tales written for us for millennia and we can certainly share the stage with others. I hope books like this pave the way for more complex writings by and about trans individuals and they become as much a part of the canon as Belle and her Beast. After all, everyone deserves to believe in happily ever after.
[Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.]