I’m going to keep this simple: as much as it was the case with The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian I don’t have it in me to *critique* If I Was Your Girl on the same level as I would a more … normative … book. It’s is very simple, mostly very pleasant, with Amanda, a milquetoast, blank-slate protagonist who wants nothing more than to be liked, to fit in, to have friends, to be confident, to be safe, and to be loved. It’s not hard to like her, even if it is hard to pick her out of a crowd.
What makes that actually interesting, and raises the stakes, is that Amanda is trans and this is set in Baptist Country, Tennessee. So this book is about all of those universal YA themes, but it’s also about passing, about finally feeling at home in your skin and your identity, and the unique anxiety of the trans experience.
As a novel, it’s very tidy and straightforward. There isn’t much of a plot, and Amanda isn’t really much of a character. It’s honestly a little pedestrian. But for all of that, it’s still emotionally resonant, and it made me ache to think of all the kids who are struggling with their identities and who don’t have as much support (and luck, because Amanda is written to pass exceptionally well) as Amanda. This is a book where the author’s note is just as revelatory as the novel, because it’s another perspective. There, the author reveals that she intentionally wrote Amanda to be, to put it bluntly, as palatable to mainstream audiences as possible, probably so that people who might see themselves having a hard time relate to a trans person could still empathize with her. It’s sad that this may still be necessary, but I understand why she did it, as I think this book can absolutely open the door for even more “challenging” material.