A sharply honest and moving debut perfect for fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Ask the Passengers. Riley Cavanaugh is many things: punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy and others as a girl. But Riley isn't exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in über-conservative Orange County, the pressure - media and otherwise - is building up in Riley's 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. And 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. From debut author Jeff Garvin comes a powerful and uplifting portrait of a modern teen struggling with high school, relationships, and what it means to be a person.
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While I was growing up—at least where I was growing up—there weren’t any discussions about gender. The whole notion of anything besides the binary—in fact, any discussion about the term binary itself—was simply nonexistent. So I grew up with that vague notion that something was amiss for me; that I was different, too different to put into words.
I knew that I never wanted to be defined as a woman. That the idea of having that label was annoying, to say the least. I didn’t want to be identified as a man, either; I simply didn’t want to be identified, period. I wanted to be human, nothing else. To be judged solely for my character and actions, not by gender. Being a feminist and, therefore, pro equality, helped with some understanding but it still didn’t feel enough.
Then, recently, I read about nonbinary and genderfluid people and a new world opened to me. I finally found the definition I’d always tried to express; why having to check the F or M in any form made me cringe so much. Why having to go to events about Women’s day at work made me want to scream. I am nonbinary. I despise gender roles, I hate being dismissed by what may be between my legs. I don’t care about the gender binary and I dream of a world where any person will have the freedom to define themselves as female or male as they wish or not to define themselves at all if they prefer. Where there won’t be any boxes to check or, at least, an N/A option.
And then a friend read Symptoms of Being Human and raved about it on Facebook. I was immediately interested, craving the chance to have representation—done right—in a novel. And oh, how wonderful the experience was!
This is a magnificent book. It is important, it is well written, it is such a powerful testimony it seems like nonfiction. And yet the writing is so lyrical, so poetic, I couldn’t stop noting quotes. Sharing quotes. Thinking about quotes.
Riley’s story is a simple one, one that is happening right now to so many people out there. And that’s the brilliancy of it; it speaks to hundreds of thousands of people who so far may be hiding, may be lost, may not even have figured out what is going on with them. Not just young people either…remember what I said at the beginning, and I’m almost 40 years old. It’s never too late to understand and to be understood.
I know we are evolving fast. Society is at least learning that it can’t just dismiss and pretend what’s not the norm doesn’t exist anymore. But there’s still so much to do, so much to learn, so much to free. Symptoms of Being Human is a huge help in that. May this book become such a tremendous bestseller that no one will be able to say they never heard about genderfluid or nonbinary anymore. Let’s spread the word about this novel and make the world a safer place to all of us!
Thank you so much, Jeff Garvin, for writing what is, no doubt, one of the best books I’ve ever have the honor of reading. And also kudos to Tom Phelan for a tremendous narration.
This audio was well read and well written. I appreciated being exposed to something I knew nothing about. I also enjoyed that all of the answers were not apparent. A good listen for anyone who is interested in how different ALL of us are.