by Meredith Russo
First sentence: “The bus smelled of mildew, machine oil, and sweat.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy pilfered off the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There’s some almost sexytimes, teen pot smoking and drinking, and a few instances of the f-bomb. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.
I’m going to get this out of the way, first. Whether or not this book is Good, it’s Important. It’s a book about a trans teenage girl written by a trans woman, and that perspective is invaluable. Period.
It’s an interesting plot, though, focusing not on the act of transitioning, or the reasons of transitioning (those come through flashbacks throughout the story), but the after-effects of the transition. Andrew grew up knowing he was a girl, and that he was just in the wrong body. And after a suicide attempt, his mother approved his transitioning — not just in name, Amanda now, but fully, with hormones and surgery. So, when she’s beaten up by a man for using the “wrong” restroom (because she was known in the their town; also, how very timely…) she heads to rural Tennessee to live with her father, who bailed on the family when Andrew began his transition to Amanda.
The goal is to pass: she is beautiful, and no one really can “tell” she wasn’t always biologically a young woman. And, at first, it all goes well. Sure, she’s hiding her past, but she’s living as her truest self, so it all seems like it will be okay. She has friends for the first time in a long time. She has a boyfriend. The problem is that even though she’s living as her truest self, keeping her past a secret isn’t always a comfortable thing.
(I hope I’m writing about this right.)
What this gave me, as a cisgender straight woman, was perspective. I did enjoy the romance; Amanda and Grant were super cute together and Russo does know how to write some good almost sexytimes. But what I found I enjoyed more was the understanding, the humanizing of Amanda. I’ve said that books are an excellent way to gain empathy for those who are different from you, and this was no exception. I feel like, through Amanda, I got to know one trans person’s story. And while that’s not to be taken as Everyperson’s story — as Russo points out in the note at the beginning of the book — it’s a start. It made Amanda’s hopes, dreams, and feelings real to me, and that’s important.
So, even if this book wasn’t any Good (and it was very well written; Russo does know her South!), it’s Important. And that counts for a lot.