Review: If I Was Your Girl

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Review for “If I Was Your Girl” by Meredith Russo (2016)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is truly a book after my own heart. It’s really really good, and I mean that. I had heard a lot of buzz about this book before it was published, so after a few weeks of watching my reserve status at the library, I finally got a notice to pick this up. Needless to say, I read this book in three days. I only paused to work on my lit review for my summer class, eat, and sleep.

Yes, it was that serious. This book had my soul.

“If I Was Your Girl” is the story of Amanda, a male to female transgendered teenager. When we first meet her, she has just moved from her mom’s house in Atlanta where she has recently been physically attacked to her dad’s apartment in a small town several hours away. At her new school, she quickly attracts the attention of a popular athlete and they begin a romance. Amanda is also surprised by how fast she makes friends and gains their trust, yet never revealing her own secret because she knows that her life could be in danger.

I can’t tell you how this story compares to other stories of transgendered individuals, because I have to admit that this is the first of its kind that I’ve ever read before. There is no discussion of genitals or body parts, because from the first page you are simply seeing the character as you are intended to see her–as a girl named Amanda. There are several flashbacks throughout the book that give you a bit of info on Amanda’s past (instances of bullying, a suicide attempt, her parents’ divorce) but from this I came away with even more of an appreciation of Amanda and her bravery to live her life in the way that makes her happy.

There is a note by the author at the end that clears up some of the criticisms I could have made about this book. For one, Amanda is able at a young age to have the surgery and access to the hormones that so many cannot afford. She’s also able to seemlessly transition into life as a female (she’s told that she’s beautiful, other people cannot tell that she was born male). The author writes that she did this so that readers could fully accept Amanda as a teenage girl. There is so little fiction right now that focuses on the trans community, so I think the author gives a decent argument for why she chose to portray Amanda this way.

“If I Was Your Girl” is one of those stories that, in my opinion, has to be out there right now. The fact that the author gives numbers for suicide hotlines in the conclusion shows that as a society, we have not progressed as far as we think we have when it comes to accepting people as they are. As a resident of North Carolina and home of the HB2 legislation (the infamous ‘bathroom bill’ that bans transgendered people from using the restroom that coincides with their chosen gender) makes it all the more important that we hear stories like Amanda’s and remind ourselves that she and people like her are real people who deserve legal protection, consideration, and respect–just like anyone else.

Needless to say, I loved this book. If you read nothing this year, save room on your TBR list for it. You will NOT be disappointed!

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Review: Suffer Love

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Review for “Suffer Love” by Ashley Herring Blake (2016)

Rating: 3.5

First impression: mehhh….

Hadley St. Clair and Sam Bennett are two teenagers that have gone through an emotional wringer in the past year, and just so happen to be paired together by chance for a school project. Hadley’s dad, a college professor, had an affair with Sam’s mom, a graduate student, which leaves everyone involved (including the children on both sides) angry and emotionally despondent. Very early on, Sam learns who Hadley is and despite his misgivings, starts to fall in love with her. He chooses not to tell her what he already knows about her. Meanwhile, Hadley likewise begins to fall for Sam, completely unaware of his connection to her family. This novel follows their courtship, the revelation of the secret that binds them, and their eventual ending.

The writing of this book is quite nice. I managed to get sucked in early on and found myself not wanting to put it down. Sam and Hadley narrate in alternating chapters, which I liked, as their voices are very distinct and allow the story to unfold quite nicely.

So why 3 stars?

Despite the ‘niceness’ of this book, it never seems to rise out of generality, its own bland pedestrian-ness. Think: a taco with no sauce, sweet tea with no sugar. Sam likes Hadley, Hadley likes Sam. It stays this way for about 100 pages. Ho hum. We know their parents are cheaters, but why? We’re never given a reason why their seemingly perfect parents screwed around or why their kids know so much about their sex lives. There is a hint toward the end of forgiveness and normalcy, which I guess makes this a cool book overall, but there were so many Dr. Phil moments that I wondered why the author bothered to go there. This book is pretty on the surface, but ultimately lacks depth, which makes it just ok for me.

Review: Golden Boy

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Review for “Golden Boy” by Tara Sullivan (2013)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Ay, I loved this story.

Before I read this book, I was only slightly aware of the killings of albinos in Africa, specifically in the country of Tanzania. Tanzania, an eastern African nation, is home to an above-average number of albinos, who are targeted for murder by witch doctors and folk healers because it is believed that their skin, hair, and body parts will bring good luck as ingredients for potions and other rituals. In addition to this, they are ostracized in their own families and communities–discriminated against, abandoned, cast out, sometimes even killed as infants.

13-year-old Dhahabo (called ‘Habo’ for short) lives in a small Tanzanian village with his mother and siblings. His father, we learn, left when he was an infant, convinced that his albino son was a portend of bad luck. His mother shows little emotion towards Habo and has reduced herself to tolerating him. His brothers ridicule him, he has no friends. Everyday life fares no better–because of the lack of pigmentation in his eyes, Habo cannot see very well. His skin easily burns in the sun and he is forced to stay indoors, which makes him useless in the eyes of his family. The only one who shows him any hint of kindness is his older sister, Asu, who makes a point to look after him. When dire straits strike the family, Habo and his family leave their village and go to another, where he is shunned once more by his aunt and forced to hide there, due to the fact that her village is known for the murder of albinos. Eventually Habo leaves this situation as well and goes to the larger city of Dar es Salaam, where he finds himself face to face with a man who is determined to murder him for his body parts.

I won’t give away the whole story, but I will say that it is definitely a good one. Habo is a person who you can’t help but to feel empathy for. You want to give him a hug and invite him home for tea. Despite his lot in life, there isn’t a bad bone in his body. When he describes the stares and the pain he feels when people call him a zeruzeru (a word that literally means “zero”, “nothing”) you feel the same pain he feels. It touches your heart.

This novel was a classic adventure story. The author did some great research, and it definitely shows in the writing. Habo’s journey is incredible and worth reading about. Its completely appropriate for middle schoolers, not too weird and definitely not boring