A seemingly innocent question on Twitter – “Can anybody recommend me a good fiction book with a trans protagonist” – made me realize that I have never read a novel with a trans person as a central figure.
After I saw the tweet, I decided to google for books with a trans lead and the most popular recommendation seemed to be the young-adult novel called “If I Was Your Girl” by Meredith Russo, a transgender author. Three days later, the paperback arrived at my door.
The story is told in first person by Amanda, who used to be Andrew and has left her mother’s hometown to move in with her estranged father to start a new life in a new school, with her new identity. What struck me in the very first few pages was how the author details the names of the hormonal pills Amanda is taking to help with the male-female transition post her gender surgery. It added a certain authenticity to the book.
Amanda’s story flits between the present and past. We first meet her as an 18-year-old getting ready to change schools and then we keep meeting Andrew in between, a teen trying to grapple with gender identity disorder. Some of these flashbacks are very poignant and deal with bullying, depression & self-harm. The most touching bit was where a six-year-old Andrew writes an essay in school about how he meets his future self, who is a successful woman. The little one is excited to show his story to his parents, to tell them he has been a girl all along and that they have mistaken him for a boy. The flashback is heartbreaking.
Most of the book is about Amanda trying to put her past behind and embracing a normal life. She finds herself attracted to boy called Grant but is scared of getting too close to somebody who isn’t aware of her past. Amanda’s only agenda in the new school is this – survive without being beaten & killed. Luckily for her, a bunch of girls befriend her and in a departure from regular high-school novels, none of them are evil scheming bitches. So we have some interesting side-characters apart from Amanda’s love interest.
What I didn’t like about the book was that Russo uses some done to death tropes to add twists in the tale. This could be any teen’s story struggling with identity issues. And Russo herself admits in a note to readers that Amanda had it too easy versus most transgenders. I am not saying that I wanted terrible things to happen to Amanda, but just that, since a lot in the present was going in her favor, the conflict introduced in the end was too contrived & ‘Hollywood-ish’. But that’s perhaps also the strength of this book. Because of its softer approach to male-female journey of a young teen, it would appeal to a lot more readers. It’s got all the ingredients for a hit coming-of-age Hollywood film.
“If I Was Your Girl” works really well as a ‘young adult’ novel and is an absolute page turner. It may not be the sorts that compels you to be awake throughout the night, but it’s definitely worth your attention. And perhaps a great start for someone wanting to read books with trans protagonists.