First, I want to thank the judges who sent both these books my way. They were the books I needed in my life right now for very different reasons.
I read If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo first; I had picked up a copy at a library conference last year but hadn’t had a chance to dip in yet. My to-be-read list is an always evolving beast with things getting pushed to the top and jumping the line for all sorts of reasons – thank goodness this was what surfaced right now! In a world where Gavin Grimm’s case against the Gloucester School Board will soon be heard by the Supreme Court, setting precedent for any other cases regarding transgender bathroom use, being familiar with transgender experiences and perspectives is important for today’s teens and, really, anyone who wants to claim they are informed.
With Amanda’s story, Russo presents to readers one story of a transgender teen living in the South – Lambertville, TN to be exact. Amanda has just recently moved to live with a Dad she barely knows because her previous high school and community were not handling her transition well. Lambertville is a place where no one knows that Amanda has transitioned – all they see is a sweet, typical Southern girl-next-door – after all that’s what Amanda is. We get to watch Amanda fall in love and experience her first kiss, figure out how to make her father see her as she has always seen herself, and, my favorite part, watch her make girl friends for the first time. Seeing how happy all these things make her, makes the eventual betrayal even tougher to take, as Amanda discovers that knowing who to trust isn’t always easy. If I Was Your Girl is an excellent romance, school story, and family drama written with an authoritative hand since Meredith Russo herself is a transgender woman – as is the beautiful cover model! And don’t miss the author’s note at the end; it’s worthy backmatter.
When I saw that My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows had made it through the first round I was expecting straight up alternate history with heavy implications a la Harry Turtledove, but to my delight that is not at ALL what this book is. I mean, it’s alternate history alright, but with shapechangers and feminism and pop culture allusions (including a ton of Shakespeare) and so. many. jokes! Truth #1: I am a sucker for a funny book. Truth #2: The world right now can be pretty depressing and induces a lot of anxiety – plus I just finished a string of heavy, literary books for a Mock Printz discussion which for some reason I decided to follow with a chaser of Anna and the Swallow Man on audio – I feel like I have been swimming in beautiful, well-constructed sentences, but, boy, was I ready for some levity and My Lady Jane delivered in spades! I simply adored this book – and it wasn’t just the fantasy and romance and humor (all particular favorites of mine); the historical fiction bits made me go refresh myself on the tragic English history of Lady Jane Grey the Nine-Days-Queen and Edward VI that inspired this romp. Hand, Ashton and Meadows took that tragic history and turned it on its ear- giving these historical figures much more entertaining and hopeful, albeit fantastical, lives.
So once again, many thanks to the first-round judges who sent me these books, both of which I enjoyed immensely. I cannot wait to recommend them to patrons and the other people in my life (In fact, I didn’t wait – I’ve already recommended each of them to at least one person – Hi, Mom and Kris!). But, in the end, I can only pick one to send forward in the tournament and, did I mention the world is scary right now? Yes, we need humor to battle that – so if it’s your thing, I hope you seek out My Lady Jane – but even more we need #ownvoices. And to lift those voices up and give them platforms. If more people read If I Was Your Girl, I believe there will be less fear of transgender people. I can recommend it to patrons all I want, but in most cases, will never know if they actually read it. Here? I can make sure at least one more person picks it up and gets to enjoy Russo’s story of one Southern girl-next-door finding her way in the world.
The Winner: If I Was Your Girl