STARRED REVIEW
February 2016

A teen breaks from gender expectations

By Jeff Garvin
Review by
In Symptoms of Being Human, Riley’s biological gender is never revealed to the reader, even though Riley’s innermost feelings are revealed through Riley’s blog. Following a psychiatrist’s advice, Riley uses the blog and its growing popularity as an effective tool to help withstand the stress of a new school and Riley’s congressman father’s run for re-election. Through this online platform, Riley pours out reflections on gender fluidity and dreams of acceptance.
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It seems so simple at birth: boy or girl. But genitalia don’t indicate whether the boy will fall in love with other boys, or whether the girl will grow to identify as a boy who loves girls. In Symptoms of Being Human, Riley’s biological gender is never revealed to the reader, even though Riley’s innermost feelings are revealed through Riley’s blog. Following a psychiatrist’s advice, Riley uses the blog and its growing popularity as an effective tool to help withstand the stress of a new school and Riley’s congressman father’s run for re-election. Through this online platform, Riley pours out reflections on gender fluidity (“It’s like a compass in my chest . . . the needle moves between masculine and feminine.”) and dreams of acceptance. In contrast to the positive reception that Riley finds online, school is torture, and Riley’s penchant for gender-neutral clothes attracts the worst bullies. 

Through the acceptance of a LGBTQ support group and Riley’s blog, author Jeff Garvin’s groundbreaking novel packs in as much advice for genderqueer teens as possible. The most important message may be that it is acceptable to live outside the gender binary. In his author’s note, Garvin provides resources to help teens struggling with gender identity issues, as well as the often-attendant anxiety and depression.

 

Diane Colson is the Library Director at City College in Gainesville, Florida.

This article was originally published in the February 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Symptoms of Being Human

Symptoms of Being Human

By Jeff Garvin
Balzer + Bray
ISBN 9780062382863

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