Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Book Recommendation and #Giveaway: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Dear Kim,

This book.
This book.
This book.

If I Was Your Girl is an exceptional example of fiction for teens, really for anyone, at anytime, anywhere.

You need this book.
Buy the book here OR enter the giveaway below.
It took me two long months to eek out the right words to review If I Was Your Girl.
In that time I've...

Read the book,
Listened to the audio version (brilliant),
Lurked #GayYABookClub (it was the May pick),
Told everyone I speak to about it (*waves to Phil from Tractor Supply*) ,
And, oh yeah,

Let's start with that.

How did you handle meeting Meredith Russo, you might ask.

I was totally cool.
Like as a cucumber.
Like not at all a blubbering, um-um-um-um fool.

In my See You at ALA post last month I mentioned a number of sessions that I was hyped to check out. I started the conference at the PopTop Stage with It's Not Just a G Thing. The session featured e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, Alex Gino, Robin Stevenson, E.M. Kokie, and moderator Ingrid Abrams. I got there early to snag a seat near the front. I had 5 pages left of my on-the-plane-book and settled in to finish Everything Leads to You.

One thing (and there are many) that I love about being around librarians is that no one faults you for being anti-social with your nose in a book. DreamLife! I swallowed the book in one gulp and let out a whimper on the last word. Of course I looked around to see if anyone had heard and I saw Meredith. Anti-social time was over.

Leaving my seat, I did some quick self talk.

You've got this.
Just go over and say, I loved your book.
Or maybe, hey?
Or hi.

Suddenly I was there, in front of her and before I could say any of the hopeless things I had practiced she said, "Hey."

Then I don't know what I said. I kind of blanked. But she said, "Why don't you come sit over here?"

I hesitated. "Really?" I said not wanting to intrude.
"Of course. I'm a real person," she said.

And we talked. I think I might have told her my favorite part of If I Was Your Girl was the scene with her dad playing baseball? Which isn't true. I like that scene, but it wasn't my favorite. Now I have the chance to tell you my favorite scene. Well, now I have the chance to tell you everything that I loved about this book, including my favorite scene.

From page one, Russo gave us a hero to love, and that is not an easy task. We are at the same time washed into the THEN of our character, the heartbreak we feel for her is real and with this knowledge we jump to the NOW. And boy do we jump cautiously. But it is cautiously optimistic, and that is what makes this great YA.

Amanda Hardy leaves behind her mother and the traumas of her old school in hopes to finish high school conflict-free. But two problems sit on the surface of her everyday. First, the father that she lost touch with is now the same person she will share a cramped apartment in her new life. And two, Amanda has a secret which she feels she must protect in order to make it out of Lambertville, Tennessee alive.

Russo created an easily relatable character based on just the information above.
Fitting into a new environment. Check.
Mending strained relationships Check.
Self preservation. Check.
While for many, Amanda's trans experience might not resonate, there are more than a million other ways to connect with this character (and others in the story.)

I believe Russo created Amanda with vast purpose. She is trans, yes. But the author, it seems, purposefully kept Amanda's experience narrow. In Russo's beautifully written author's note she explains,

"...I'm worried that you might take Amanda's story as gospel, especially since it came from a trans woman. This prospect terrifies me, actually! I am a storyteller, not an educator. I have taken liberties with what I know reality to be... I have, in some ways, cleaved to stereotypes and even bent rules to make Amanda's trans-ness as unchallenging to normative assumptions as possible."

Russo's debut YA screams with hope for our teens. Crafted so Amanda's story (or Layla's story, or Chloe's story, or Bee's story) will resonate with so many is the reason If I Was Your Girl works. Yes, the story centers on Amanda's secret. Though I would suggest, if we didn't care about Amanda, if Russo hadn't made her so damn substantial, then the story would hit just one note. Russo does more. She expertly manipulates Amanda's story to leave her readers with hope.

Hope for her character's self acceptance, family unity, and global awareness.
Hope for the trans community in and out of the book.
Hope for the YA community that this is just the beginning.
We all HOPE, so much, that Russo will come at us again (and soon) with a new character to love. Another nerdy girl who maybe loves another nerdy girl? Or is questioning whether to love the nerdy girl? (I bet Meredith Russo gets a story suggestion a minute because we all want more.)

Russo understands the needs of today's YA community and we are all ready for her next book. UNLESS OF COURSE... You haven't read her first book. In that case, scroll down to the comments section of today's post. Leave us your name and email address and one lucky winner will be selected to receive a copy of IF I WAS YOUR GIRL by Meredith Russo.

Good luck!
Much Love,

P.S. My goodness, thanks for the reminder Kim!

It is with Layla and Amanda near the end of the book. Starts with...

"Amanda!" Layla said. I sniffled and scowled at her, but the look she gave me withered away my anger. "Don't you dare talk about my friend that way."

I can't write more without spoiling the ending for you. Just know that it is a true and AWESOME scene about female friendship!!!