If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo and Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier are extremely different – in terms of theme, intended audience, writing style, etc. While both are done very well, going into this review, I thought it was actually going to be an easy choice. Turns out, this was not the case!
While I truly liked both books, for me, this round really came down to authenticity of voice. Meredith Russo is a transgender author telling the story of a transgender character. Raina Telgemeier is a white author telling a culturally significant story about a Mexican American character. Prior to pitting these two books against each other, I really hadn’t given the cultural appropriation debate too much thought. It’s been in the news, and I understand why it’s been in the news. However, for my book choices, it always comes down to wanting to hear a good story, wanting to be entertained, and just wanting to lose myself in a new world/adventure/time. I honestly hadn’t given too much thought to the writer behind those stories.
After reading these two books, however, I felt I needed to do a bit more research about voice and cultural appropriation. There has been a LOT written about this topic in the last few years. The more I read and thought about the issue, the more I realized I couldn’t talk about these particular books without addressing it. It’s an amazing and powerful thing to give voice to diverse stories and diverse authors. Having those from within a culture, tell a story (while not necessarily “the” story) of that culture, simply cannot be discounted. That being said, I think that the craft of writing is a tremendous skill and recognizing it as such is equally important. Just because a writer has an authentic voice, does that mean he/she is a successful storyteller? Not always.
For various reasons, I think both of these books would have benefitted from additional editing. Telgemeier is a fantastic storyteller, and I love the relationship between the sisters in this book. However, I feel that negative reviews that reference missteps relating to Dia De Los Muertos do have some merit. If I Was Your Girl is a debut novel, and that showed in some of Russo’s narrative choices. That being said, this book helps pave the way for other voices that will be both window and mirror for future readers. Russo’s story will make a bigger, and longer-lasting, impact on both individual readers as well the publishing world itself.
For that reason, If I Was Your Girl is the winner of this round.