Review: Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Posted November 19, 2016 in Book Reviews / 3 Comments

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Review: Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff GarvinSymptoms of Being Human
Author: Jeff Garvin
Pages: 352 (Hardcover)
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: February 2, 2016
Source: Borrowed
Purchase: AmazonTBD (affiliate link)

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.

4 Stars

If you want to learn more about gender fluidity and read a great story about self acceptance and the power of the internet, then I’d highly recommend Symptoms of Being Human. Riley has recently started identifying as gender fluid: some days they feel more feminine and other days more masculine. However, Riley is not “out.” With a politician for a father, Riley’s family is always in the spot light and that’s not what Riley wants at all. They just want to blend in, especially at their new school. Although blending in does cause Riley to stick out.

Symptoms of Being Human is all about Riley dealing with anxiety and their identity. As part of that, their therapist recommended starting an anonymous blog to share Riley’s experience with learning that they’re gender fluid, what that actually means, and how day to day life is for them. Riley’s blog is funny, sad, enlightening, and just real. Of course, we also get to see how the internet is not always a nice, accepting place which becomes evident when Riley gains a stalker who know who is really behind the blog which threatens Riley’s safe space.

I do have to admit that in the beginning I was wonder what gender Riley was assigned at birth. It’s never revealed. Any references to Riley’s birth gender/sex are danced around with neutral words. But at about 100 pages in, I realized that I wasn’t even wondering anymore. I was just immersed in Riley’s story and wanting to know what would happen next as they start making friends and find a community to be a part of. However, there was one point where keeping gendered words out felt forced and more like a way to keep up the “mystery.” I didn’t like that at all.

Symptoms of Being Human was a great read. It was hard at times, because Riley does go through some very tough moments which broke my heart and upset my stomach. But it’s not an overall sad book. It’s very hopeful and informative, while still having an interesting story that I think a lot of people can relate to, no matter what their gender identity is.


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