AUTHOR: Meredith Russo
GENRE: contemporary romance
PLOT SUMMARY: Amanda is a trans girl who is returning to high school for her senior year after beginning hormones. In hopes of making a fresh start, she's moved in with her father, and fully intends to just keep her head down and move away to college at the end of the year. Being in a small, conservative town in the South, she doesn't intend to tell anyone she's trans, until she meets Grant. Grant is unlike anyone she's ever met before, and Amanda quickly finds herself falling in love with him -- but she's scared that if he finds out about her past, he won't want her anymore.
FIRST THOUGHTS: I've been eyeing this book since it came out, and I'm really glad I finally decided to read it. While I won't say it's a fun read -- it's not -- it is an important read. It's not all doom and gloom, but the subject matter does make the mood rather somber, but realistically so. I'm really glad a book like this finally exists, and I hope it paves the way for many more like it. One thing I should note before continuing on with the review is that I am a cis woman, and so my reactions to this book are undoubtedly colored by that. While I am queer, I have no perception of what it's like to be trans. With all that said, I did really enjoy this book, and I think other people will too, regardless of gender or sex.
THOUGHTS ON PLOT: The book contains two plotlines; flashbacks to Amanda's life before transitioning, and her new life in her new town. The "main" one, focusing on the present, is mainly about Amanda's relationship with Grant, and how her being trans affects it. I'm not normally too big on romances, but this romance is less about the lovebirds' relationship and more about Amanda's internal struggle pertaining to the relationship, if that makes sense. If we didn't have the flashbacks, however, I probably would've have enjoyed it as much as I did. That said, I did like that the story wasn't about Amanda's transition, but instead, the aftermath.
7 / 10
THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: I really liked Amanda and Grant -- both were remarkably realistic teenagers dealing with their own issues, and they made for a really sweet couple. Amanda, in particular, is a really likable and sympathetic narrator, one that draws you into her story right away. Grant is also a refreshing change from the bland love interests of most YA contemporary. I also liked Amanda's parents, both of whom are a mixed bag in their own way when it comes to Amanda's identity, but both of whom are very fleshed-out. I especially loved Amanda's dynamic with her father. While not always pleasant, it was always fascinating to read, and sometimes downright heartwarming. Amanda's new friends at her school aren't as well-developed as they could've been, but they make for a decent enough supporting cast. Overall, it's Amanda that carries the book, but she has plenty of help.
7 / 10
THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: This is a short, short book; I got through it in two sittings, no problem. The writing style is very engaging and easy to get into, and the flashbacks are extraordinarily well-written. A lot of stories that include flashbacks tend to get too confused, or worse, the flashbacks seem unneeded, but that was far from the case here. They fit seamlessly into the story, and the book was much stronger with them than it would've been without.
7 / 10
THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: This is an #ownvoices novel -- meaning, it was written about a diverse group by a member of that group. In this case, Amanda is a trans woman, and the author is one as well. While the novel is, by the author's own admission, idealized in many ways (Amanda passes with little to no effort, she's conventionally attractive, she obtained surgery and hormones relatively easily, etc.), it still paints an honest picture of what Amanda's been through, and how she continues to persevere even in an environment that seems unwilling to accept her. There are also several queer side characters, and a lot of talk about how gender roles play into various characters' lives. The end of the book also has a nice touch: two notes from the author, one specifically for cis readers, one specifically for trans readers. There, the author notes that Amanda's experiences as a trans woman are far from universal and should not be taken as such, and that she hopes this story will encourage people to seek broader understanding of the trans community. I hope so, too.
10 / 10
FINAL THOUGHTS: I would highly recommend this book to anyone, queer or straight, cis or trans. It's so refreshing and important to have a mainstream YA novel about a trans person, written by a trans person. My greatest hope is that twenty, thirty years down the road, we'll have more trans protagonists, and we'll be able to point to this book as one of the tipping points for when it became more common to see. Because, fellow cis people, trans people are not nearly as rare as you've been led to believe -- it's time our fiction reflected that.
FINAL GRADE: 7.5 / 10
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