Nov 24, 2019

Symptoms of Being Human

by Jeff Garvin

Riley, the protagonist of this novel, is going through a lot. A new high school. Parents involved in politics, very high-profile. Anxiety attacks and therapy sessions after a brief stay in a mental hospital. And Riley is gender fluid (feeling like a boy one day, a girl the next), which nobody (except the therapist) knows about. Riley mostly wears neutral clothing that leave him/her feeling untrue to self and (as much I could gather from the story) strikes an androgynous appearance. Riley makes a few friends but suffers taunts and harassment at school which eventually escalates. Meanwhile, the therapist suggest writing as an outlet, so Riley begins to blog- about personal experiences, with a nice scattering of snark and humor thrown in. It's something of a shock when the blog becomes wildly popular among the online LGBTQ community- and Riley starts cautiously giving advice to people who send in messages. Receives a lot of support on the blog, but also some negative comments. Then it turns sour when an anonymous commentator starts leaving hateful messages and hinting that they know Riley's true identity, threatening to out Riley at school. Fair warning: some of the events at the end of this book could be traumatic to read. There's an assault, and there's talk about a suicide and its affects on someone's family. However there's also support, true friendship, and positive self-discovery. Sometimes things get ugly but Riley makes it through and finds strength.

I liked how realistic this book felt- in that nobody's perfect. Riley's two friends are mostly accepting, but one avoids stepping in sometimes when Riley needs help, and the other is hiding her own secrets. Riley finds support among the LGBTQ community, but sees how someone else faces a violent reaction when coming out to parents. There's even a moment when Riley isn't sure if a new acquaintance is male or female, and feels awkward about it- realizing that everyone has an innate tendency to judge on appearances, even when we don't want to. Rather pointedly, the author wrote the book in a way that never actually reveals which sex characteristics Riley was born with- this made sense, but sometimes it felt a bit forced to me. This is the first time I read a book with a main character who is gender fluid, so it was educational for me. However for readers already familiar with this, the explanations might feel like an info dump at times, even though they were woven pretty well into the story.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5                  340 pages, 2016

more opinions:
Reading Rants
Gone with the Words

1 comment:

  1. Forgot to mention: there's a bit of romance in here, too. Subtle, and it doesn't go further than a kiss, but it felt very real, also. I liked that.


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