Review: Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff GarvinSymptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
Published by Balzer + Bray on February 2, 2016
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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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.

Symptoms of Being Human was a book I always knew I was going to read, and one I knew I would love after Dahlia (author of one of my favorite books Just Visiting) told me it was totally a Christina book. Still, I didn’t expect it to grab me the way that it did. I’d been in a full-on Mediator binge that nothing had been able to pull me away from and then suddenly I can’t put Symptoms of Being Human down. Fair warning, this book makes a terrible plane read. There I was, stuck on the plane trying to keep my emotions from my face. Symptoms of Being Human is voicey, emotional, a bit sad and a lot beautiful.

What I’m most impressed by is the writing. I mean, I really don’t know how Jeff Garvin did it. Throughout the whole book, the birth gender of Riley Cavanaugh is never revealed. Now, I love this for a few reasons. First, it really makes many of us wonder what Riley’s birth gender is. Second, it makes us question why the fuck it matters, which it doesn’t. But also I’m just damn impressed at the fact that Garvin managed not to pronoun Riley at any point without the writing feeling stilted and awkward. That is mad skill.

Gender fluidity isn’t something I know a whole lot about, and this is my first book with a gender fluid main character. I took to Riley immediately, and you’d have to be heartless not to feel for Riley’s struggles. To avoid standing out, Riley dresses androgynously, with haircuts and clothes somewhere between girl and boy on the spectrum. Dressing however Riley feels for the day would be too overt and threaten dad’s chance at reelection, so Riley settles for the in-between.

Throughout the book, Riley goes to therapy sessions, a requirement after a certain thing happened. This is one of those books that portrays therapy in a really wonderful light, which you can probably guess means I loved this part. Therapy is a safe space for Riley. It is on the recommendation of Riley’s therapist that Riley starts a blog about what it’s like to feel like a girl some days and a boy some days, a blog that really takes off.

Books like this one turn me into a leaky fountain. It just kills me having to see wonderful people like Riley picked on and insulted and reviled by narrow-minded douchecrates. That makes me angry and sad. Then when Riley finds good people, that makes me all weepy too.

I admit I was kind of hoping for a love triangle kind of thing with Bec, Riley and Solo, but I’m also pretty okay with how things turned out. Solo and Bec are very different kinds of friends and neither one is what Riley expected them to be from the surface. Basically, I like that, as much as the book is about Riley’s gender fluidity, it’s also about remembering that there’s more to people than what you see on the surface in a given moment.

I do think that the book goes a bit too far to the preachy/informational, but, honestly, I don’t care that much. The thing is that I think books like this are needed to get the word out. When it’s packed with this much voice, I can forgive the fact that it’s clearly a lesson on gender fluididty. Bring it on, prof. If that’s not your thing, though, heads up.

This is a book that’s going to come down to the voice, I think. If Riley’s voice captures you, you’re going to love it like I did. If not, it’s still worth a read and you’ll probably like it, but it might come across a bit too heavy-handed.

Favorite Quote:

Anyway, it’s not that simple. 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.

“Okay,” people say, “but you were born one way or another. Like, biologically. Anatomically.”

As if they have a right to know! As if, since I’ve so rudely failed to make it obvious, I ought to wear a sign.

Well, it’s none of their damn business.

You think I’m unaware that my gender isn’t immediately apparent to you? You think I didn’t choose these clothes and this haircut specifically to avoid being stuffed into one pigeon-hole or another?

I’m gender fluid. Not stupid.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 gif i am beautiful no matter what they say christina aguilera

One response to “Review: Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin”

  1. Roberta R. says:

    I was redirected here via Julie (My 5 Monkeys)’s tweet. This book has been on my radar for a while, and your review gave me even more reasons to read it. Great job!
    Roberta R. recently posted…Christopher Pike: “Black Knight”My Profile

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