Birthday by Meredith Russo
Author: Meredith Russo
To Be Published: May 21, 2019
Reviewed By: Jessica
Dates Read: May 7-12, 2019
Jessica’s Rating: 5 stars
Boyhood meets The Sun Is Also a Star in this unconventional love story about two teens bonded for life when they are born on the same day at the same time by award-winning author Meredith Russo!
Two kids, Morgan and Eric, are bonded for life after being born on the same day at the same time. We meet them once a year on their shared birthday as they grow and change: as Eric figures out who he is and how he fits into the world, and as Morgan makes the difficult choice to live as her true self. Over the years, they will drift apart, come together, fight, make up, and break up—and ultimately, realize how inextricably they are a part of each other.
Morgan and Eric are born on the same day in the same hospital during a freak September snowstorm, thus beginning their bond for life. Birthday is told from both Morgan and Eric’s point of view every year on their birthday from ages 13-18. Neither boy has had an easy life for various reasons, and Birthday shows both Morgan and Eric coming into who they will become, with Morgan coming to terms in finding her true self.
You can’t help but adore and root for both Morgan and Eric as they discover who they are. They face various individual challenges, including living in small town Tennessee where the only way you may get to leave is through a football scholarship and Morgan’s dad is the high school football coach. Everything about Birthday including Morgan’s anguish and Eric’s confusion felt real. The characters are so well written, yet Birthday is a very easy and quick read.
Meredith Russo brings these characters to life in a way she knows as she is transgender. As with reading If I Was Your Girl, I felt Russo put herself in the character of Morgan. Some of Morgan’s emotions must have been hers as she went through her transition. Thank you for bringing these stories to the page. They are important stories that those who are transgender may need and will help those of us who are not transgender understand what it is like.
There are some tough scenes in Birthday including a suicide attempt but the ending is a good one. There are touching moments throughout dealing with Morgan’s mom. I actually finished reading Birthday on Mother’s Day and that was perfect timing on my part! I would love to read continuing stories for Morgan and Eric.
I feel I can’t give the book a good enough review, this book is that important and powerful. Give Birthday a chance and read it on May 21st.
Many thanks to the publisher Flatiron Books for sending me an arc copy.
A Conversation with Meredith Russo
Courtesy of Meredith Russo
A transgender woman who wrote her book for transgender teens, but would like everyone to read it, Meredith Russo discussed some various topics with me. I learned some things through this interview. Thank you for that Meredith!
My Review of If I Was Your Girl can be read here.
Purchase If I was Your Girl on Amazon
**In this interview you will see the term ‘cis gender’. The term cis gender refers to a person whose gender identity matches their biological sex.
JRR (Jessica’s Reading Room): Tell us about yourself.
Meredith: Um! I’m an Aries and an ENFP, I play a lot of video games and D&D, and my favorite color is red. I’m a novelist from Chattanooga, Tennessee, where I’ve lived my entire life except for a short stretch in Massachusetts. I’m a trans woman, and a mom, and I own a cat who doesn’t like me very much. My book, If I Was Your Girl, just won a Stonewall, and I have no idea how to process that yet.
JRR: Congratulations! That is quite the achievement. Hopefully the awards will keep coming. Now, did you always want to become an author?
Meredith: No. For the first seventeen years of my life I thought I wanted to be either a classical musician or an artist, preferably drawing graphic novels. I didn’t have the dedication to practice either of those though so they went fallow, and meanwhile I was writing fanfiction with my friends all the time, so in college I just sort of accidentally sidled into writing.
JRR: And now you have written this great book! What inspired you to write If I Was Your Girl?
Meredith: I wanted to write the book I needed when I was younger. I wanted to write a book where transitioning isn’t the event horizon of the character’s life, where good things happen to a trans character, and where the bittersweetness of any book’s ending is tuned more to sweet than bitter, because this is something that hasn’t really existed for young trans people until now.
JRR: If I Was Your Girl is a Young Adult novel. Whom do you want to read it? Teenagers, adults, cisreaders, transreaders, or everyone?
Meredith: I want everyone to read it, of course, but it’s for young trans people. I address in the author’s note that I made some changes and concessions because I knew cis people would read it as well, but my original, intended audience was young trans people. I’m grateful to anyone who picks it up and reads it though.
JRR: To those that will read the book, I can definitely say to read the author’s note. It answers some questions you may have and questions you may not even realize you have!
Was your journey to becoming published a long/tough journey?
Meredith: Yes and no. I’ve worked some terrible jobs in the process of paying my dues, and I’ve written some things I hope never see the light of day, but at the end of the day I got a pretty well received debut novel published when I was 28 years old, which seems pretty young. So I would say things have been difficult in some ways and easy in others.
JRR: Congrats on being published that young! That is an accomplishment that I am sure many want, but never reach. In your opinion, what may be the biggest misconception that cisgender have about transgender people?
Meredith: Not biggest as in most common but biggest as in most damaging is, I think, the idea of autogynephilia. If you don’t know, autogynephilia is a pseudoscientific idea claiming that bisexual and lesbian trans women aren’t women at all, but rather men with a fetish for the idea of being women. Cis women are allowed to call this “feeling sexy” and move on with their lives, but trans women are told we’re perverts at one of the most delicate, vulnerable points in our lives, and the damage is often profound.
JRR: I had never heard of autogymphilia. Thank you for informing us. While reading If I Was Your Girl I couldn’t help but become attached to Amanda and root for her in. I was worried about there being a bad ending for her. I won’t give away the ending, but why do you feel that most books and movies about transgender people tend to have a negative ending?
Meredith: For a lot of intersecting, complicated reasons. I think a lot of writers (specifically cis writers) observe our lives from the outside and notice the tragedy before they notice the nuance and beauty, and so that’s what tends to get foregrounded in their work. I think it’s also easier to relate to a corpse or a heartbroken character shuffled off screen than it is to a living, breathing person or character. But maybe both of those are cynical.
JRR: What are your passions? Are there any organizations you work with that you would like to mention?
Meredith: The ACLU is doing amazing work with civil rights in general and trans rights specifically right now, and their work has never been more important. The Sylvia Rivera Law Project ensures that trans people who have been imprisoned are treated humanely, which I think is important. I’m a huge supporter of NODAPL, and any support you can give them would be wonderful– there are so many ways to contribute that it’s best to just do a search.
JRR: Links for both The Sylvia Rivera Law Project and NOPAPL will be provided at the end of this post. Is there anything you want to address with the “bathroom issue” for transgender people?
Meredith: I wrote a New York Times piece on the issue that you can find here and I’m not sure I have much more to add, partially because I think my argument there is complete but mostly because the last time I ventured into this issue the backlash was a nightmare.
JRR: That was a powerful article. It does give cis people your perspective as a transwoman on the bathroom issue. Personally, I have no problem with you using the same restroom as I do. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that I have been in a restroom with a member of the transgender community.
Now, can you tell us about your writing process?
Meredith: When I have my son I promise myself I’ll write in fits and starts while he’s busy playing or taking a nap, but then I end up doing chores, winding down on social media, or going to sleep while Netflix plays. When I don’t have my son I wake up at eleven, do chores and errands for a few hours, and generally work for eight hours, from four to two in the morning. My writing process itself is pretty chaotic– I get bored if I focus on one thing for too long, so I bounce from scene to scene and project to project.
JRR: Who is your favorite author as an adult?
Meredith: Margaret Atwood, I think, but I’m not very good at favorites or listing so that could change five minutes from now.
JRR: I recently bought The Handmaid’s Tale. With the series coming out on Hulu, it seemed like the right time to get it. I hope to read it soon.
If you could have dinner with three people(living or dead) who would they be?
Meredith: Rosa Luxemborg, Sappho, and Emma Goldman
JRR: What would you like to say to someone who is transgender who has not started their transition process?
Meredith: I know transitioning seems scarier than ever in a post-Trump world, but we need you more than ever. Please don’t stay silent. Please join your voice with ours.
JRR: Are there any books about transgender people that you recommend? I read Becoming Nicole at the end of 2015. It was a very powerful book about a transgender girl dealing with her transitioning, her twin brother, and their family and her fight for equality.
Meredith: A Safe Girl to Love by Casey Plett, Nevada by Imogen Binnie, George by Alex Gino, and Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark.
JRR: Do you have plans to write another book anytime soon? If so, can you tell us anything about it?
Meredith: Of course! I’m working on a book right now called Birthday about a nonbinary teen and a cis boy who are born at the exact same time, meet on their thirteenth birthday, and slowly fall in love over the course of their next seven birthdays.
JRR: That sounds intriguing! I will have to look into it when it comes out!
**Thank you so much for your time with this interview Meredith!
The Sylvia Rivera Law Project
If I Was Your Girl
Author: Meredith Russo
Published: May 3, 2016
Dates Read: January 1-11, 2017
My Rating: 5 Stars
Book Summary from Amazon:
Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.
But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.
Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love?
If I Was Your Girl is powerful and important book. It is Amanda’s story: She is transgender and finishing her senior year of high school living with her dad after an incident occurred while she was living with her mom. It has been many years since she has seen her father. The chapters alternate between the past and present to give us Amanda’s full story in the order we need to learn everything.
If I was Your Girl is a Young Adult novel, but I think everyone should read this book. For those of us that are not transgender we can be called ‘cisgender’ (a person whose identity and gender corresponds with their biological sex) and we can see a fictionalized story of what transgender people can go through. The author, Meredith Russo is a transgender woman. She does a very good job getting us in the head of a teenage transgender girl. We see Amanda’s pain when she was Andrew. We grow to love Amanda and root for her. We see all sides of Amanda’s journey: her parents facing the fact that they are ‘losing’ their son, but gaining a daughter, Amanda’s new friends, and a possible love. Amanda does her best to keep her distance from Grant and keeping her secret from her friends. She doesn’t know how they will react if they know she was Andrew. She is torn with this, especially when it comes to Grant, as they get closer.
Meredith Russo wrote an afterword that answers some questions the reader may have had as they were reading the book, and even some answers to questions you may not have even realized you had! She writes to both her ‘cisgender readers’ and ‘trans readers’ and explains why she wrote the book the way she did. She explains that she is a story teller, not an educator. Her story is very different from Amanda’s and doesn’t want us to take Amanda’s story as fact. Every transgender person has a different story, and they can be as varied as ours. The Author’s Notes (narrated by the author) is just as important as the novel and needs to be read.
The narrator of the audiobook is Samia Mounts and she does a superb job. A narrator can make or break an audiobook and she shines through the novel! Her voice is perfect for Amanda and the performance is phenomenal. You really feel everything Amanda feels through Samia Mounts’ narration.
The original cover which is shown at the beginning of this post is of transgender model Kira Conley. She is beautiful and I actually pictured her as Amanda as I was listening to the book.
If I Was Your Girl is a novel that will make you think. It is highly recommended. Another book I recommend is Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt. This is a true story of a transgender girl, her twin brother and her fight for acceptance.[Top]