Q&A Review: Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Q&A

Written by: Jeff Garvin
Release Date: February 2, 2016
Pages: 352, hardcover
Series: standalone
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Book

The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?

Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. The thing is…Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in uber-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley’s so-called “normal” life.

On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it’s REALLY like to be a gender fluid teenager. But just as Riley’s starting to settle in at school—even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast—the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley’s real identity, threatening exposure. Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.

 

1) Best Part of this Book?

“The fact that it exists” is pretty much a given here–it’s about time YA books started featuring more nonbinary characters and exploring the complexity of gender.

That being said, I loved:

  • Riley’s blog entries, which could easily have felt like infodumps but didn’t, because Riley’s voice was so powerful throughout. 
  • the way Riley’s anxiety was portrayed–the fact that it didn’t magically go away at the end of the book but was something Riley learned to cope with better, Riley’s conversations with their therapists, the depiction of the anxiety medication’s effects.
  • Riley’s heartwarming friendships with Solo and Bec.

2) Favorite character?

Riley is very believable as a teenager who has been through a lot and is trying to figure out what to do next, who is fantastically snarky with great taste in music, who shows a mix of strength and vulnerability and grows so much.

3) Worst part of this book?

Can I say I’m jealous of the fact that Riley got five thousand followers in a week? Does that actually happen to people?

On a more serious note, Jeff Garvin made the decision not to reveal Riley’s assigned-at-birth sex, and I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, it means readers will (hopefully) question why the want to know that information when that isn’t the gender Riley identifies with. On the other hand, someone’s assigned sex does influence how people treat them, and that contributes to who they are.

4) Favorite Quote?

“The world isn’t binary. Everything isn’t black or white, yes or no. Sometimes it’s not a switch, it’s a dial. And it’s not even a dial you can get your hands on; it turns without your permission or approval.”

5) Was it what’s Expected?

Honestly, it was. Other than Riley’s gender identity (which I haven’t seen many books feature), this was a pretty garden-variety coming out story, with both the good and the bad that this entails.

PickupI’d say yes!

Polina 

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