Last week, I terrified myself with Natalie D. Richard’s One Was Lost. After that, I’d love a palate cleanser of a novel I can read at night without worrying about nightmares. That’s why this week, I’ll be reading Jeff Garvin’s exploration of what gender is and isn’t in Symptoms of Being Human.
As a non-binary person myself, just reading the synopsis of this novel had my heart racing. Growing up, I would have loved to see stories like this in my local library. Even if I wasn’t ready to come out, and I wasn’t, I would have a chance to see that people who question their identity, or even people whose identity changes day by day, are normal and worthy of love and attention.
The story begins on the cover of the book, where the question “Boy or girl?” is posed. A succinct answer, “yes,” gives us a great insight into what the book is like without ever having to crack open the spine.
When you do, the front flap explains a little more about Riley:
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, 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. 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.
Reading this synopsis made me rethink reading the book. At least, for a while. The subject matter hits very close to home, especially growing up in the age of Myspace and Xanga, trying to find a place to be me without the fear of being caught or outed. But I knew it was important not to put it off. Even if it’s uncomfortable, this kind of story is important to read. It’s very real, and I’m excited to be forced to handle a part of my childhood that I’ve tried so hard not to think about.
The one thing that I will say is that the protagonist is clearly white. The cover of the book shows us a side-swept bang a la 2004 scene kids. While it’s really nice to see genderfluid people represented, especially in a YA context, I would love to have stories about queer kids of color so that they can see themselves represented in stories. Still, though, this is a minor point, and I’m excited about what this book is going to bring.
Hope you join me next week to hear my thoughts on Garvin’s debut novel on what it means to be human.