Thursday, April 14, 2016

Review: Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Symptoms of Being Human
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Hardcover, 352 pages, Balzer + Bray
Genres: YA, Contemporary, LGBT

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.

My Review

First off, this book is a touching story. There’s no doubt about it. It’s also an incredible piece of literature when it comes to analyzing why we as human beings care about other people’s desires, lives, looks, etc. so freakin’ much. Garvin has managed to create a story that should have every reader questioning his/her thoughts, hopefully, for the better.

This book is told from Riley Cavanaugh’s point of view. As the description says, Riley is gender fluid, some days Riley identifies as a boy, sometimes a girl. While I know there are plenty of people in the world who struggle with the binary gender system society has forced upon them, I have never read a book in a character’s head who has this dilemma. And, honestly, reading about Riley and the struggles happening within Riley’s family had me seriously questioning my own actions.

I’ve always thought of myself as an accepting person. People can wear what they want, be who they want, etc., with the only limitation being that someone’s actions can’t interfere with another person’s rights. This book had me truly second-guessing how progressive I actually was, simply because I kept wanting to know Riley’s sex. I would have to remind myself that Riley’s body didn’t matter to the storyline. Only Riley’s heart and voice ability were what mattered. And I hope that’s what Garvin was trying to get at by writing this story: that no matter if you have questions about someone else’s lifestyle choices, you should always recognize that the only thing that truly matters is what’s on the inside.

While this book had a fantastic message, there were a couple of problems I had with it. Mostly these problems just dealt with the pacing and convenience of some of the happenings in the plot. Oftentimes, events just happened way too quickly when they should have been flushed out a little more. Also, towards the end, Riley’s journey took a very monumental turn that came out of nowhere and wasn’t as delved into as deeply as I feel would have been realistic. Even Riley’s blog gets a little too popular a little too quickly to be 100% lifelike.

All in all, this book is a great story about not being defined by what’s on the outside, and I commend Garvin for writing Riley’s voice so well.

*Note: I borrowed a copy of this book from my local library. This in no way affected my opinion/review.

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