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.
I've been having a really hard time figuring out how to write this review because every time I try to talk about the main character, I don't know which gender binary pronoun to use. But I think that's the point -- to feel this sense of cognitive dissonance at having to move beyond established paradigms. And the author does an amazing job at keeping you wondering through the entire book as to the gender that society would assign to Riley Cavanaugh.
I thoroughly enjoyed Symptoms of Being Human. Jeff Garvin does a wonderful job of helping the reader get behind Riley's plight as many young readers are likely to have never heard of the concept of gender fluidity. But because the author surely knows so many people haven't heard of this issue before, there were places in the story that felt more like it was trying to be an educational pamphlet than a young adult novel. I certainly don't fault Jeff Garvin for that, but at the same time, it made the story feel a bit like an after school special in places. That doesn't make the book any less compelling; it just made the narrative a little bit more noticeable at the seams. Even so, the writing in Symptoms of Being Human is both precise and poetic. Riley doesn't mince words, but still manages to write with a sense of wonder and appreciation at the power they hold.
If you're looking to add to your collection of YA novels with compelling LGBTQ characters, I highly recommend Jeff Garvin's debut novel.
Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
Published: February 2, 2016
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Young Adult
Disclosure: Audiobook download provided by publisher
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