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It's like a combination between the books Being Emily and The Gospel According to Larry. Also reminded me of the movie "Boys Don't Cry."
Riley has the same problem trans people do: Riley likes things that are labeled as being for a certain gender, and thinks that means something about its own gender/sex. Whereas trans people like things of the opposite sex and think that makes them the opposite gender, Riley likes things of both genders, and thinks that makes it genderfluid. It's NORMAL to like things that are for both sexes. It's only CONFORMING TO GENDER ROLES that makes boys like only boy things and girls like only girl things.
Riley has a problem with being called 'it', but probably dislikes 'she' and 'he' too, because that's slapping a gender onto it that it may not feel is accurate at that particular moment. 'It' is truer to the gender fluid identity. Riley never says what pronouns it prefers, so how are we supposed to know?
It was annoying how often characters were popping pills, like the book was an advertisement for drug companies. But I guess the story is just a reflection of modern life: humans think they can't function without drugs. Maybe all this drug use is why so many kids are being born LGBT?
Like Being Emily, this book seems amateurly written; there are several instances where there isn't proper spacing between words. The narrator, Riley, is very convincingly a millennial teenager. It's hard to believe that the book was written by the old guy that it claims to be written by. An example is the realistic Internet conversation:
Anonymous person says: "your a fag"
Riley acts all high and mighty by pointing out that the person didn't use "you're," which is completely beside the point. Riley also calls them homophobic at the same time.
This part is unrealistic: Riley writes a couple entries on a blog, and suddenly becomes famous over it as if his website is the only LGBT site on the Internet. Characters treat Riley like it is so good at writing, "has a way with words," but they seemed pretty ordinary and simple to me.
Also unrealistic: Riley calls its CA hometown near LA the most "binary place in the known universe" (p. 30). That's funny since CA is one of the most liberal states in America. Just an example of the millennial mentality: they think they're suffering sooo much, and no one has it worse than them!
Riley acts all traumatized and harassed just after being called 'it.' It's interesting to compare modern books like this to older books about teens or kids, who have much worse lives than this. Today's kids think they have it sooo bad when they bring their problems onto themselves. They should be grateful they have two loving parents, enough food to eat, and a middle class roof over their head. Not everybody has all those privileges. Older books about kids/teens didn't have narrators full of such self-pity over such small things. After Riley comes out to the parents, they are about 90% accepting, but even that is not good enough for Riley. S/he wants to slap the mom and yell at the dad. Of course it's terrible for a person to hit/kill/tease someone for being LGBT, but people these days act like that kind of abuse is equivalent to someone simply having the opinion that what Riley's going through might just be a phase. It has become taboo to even *question* the validity of LGBTs, or to suspect that they're lying. Being skeptical is not the same as hating, but the LGBTs treat it that way; they want to call "Homophobe!" toward everyone unless they get 100% acceptance and belief in all their claims, as if an LGBT can never be confused, ignorant, lie, or pretend. LGBTs are HUMAN like everyone else, and HUMANS are capable of all those things. They're symptoms of being human!
This book is clearly ABOUT trans people rather than FOR us. All but one of the many, many trans characters have something awful happen to them as a direct result of their identities, up to and including sexual assault. This very much feels like trans people in this book are written as a sideshow, people whose suffering exists for drama and is being put on display for cis people’s entertainment. Garvin evokes pity, not empathy.
EDIT: After taking a few hours to calm down, I realize that there are many aspects of this book that other trans people, especially young people, might find validating and relatable. As someone who just wanted to read about someone like myself, I found the messages of Riley being hurt and hated and scared without being able to meaningfully fight back or be supported for most of the book painful and enraging. I honestly felt like trans people in the book didn't have interests or goals that weren't directly related to their transness. Riley's crush on Bec felt like the only thing Riley did/had that wasn't largely or entirely motivated/affected by their existence as a trans person. Everything about being trans felt like it was nothing but a negative influence on lives and experiences, a curse. It was like trans people couldn't be happy without paying a toll, proving they had suffered for their identities. Yes, I and every other trans person I know has had bad experiences, both internally from dysphoria and externally from transphobes and so on, but the whole point of advocacy is so that it doesn't have to be that way for others. Stop playing transness for drama and start letting us be people with a full range of interests and motivations. Being trans informs our lives, but it isn't everything we are, and suffering isn't everything it means to be trans. Let me see myself in a book without having to see myself terrified, depressed, and sexually assaulted.
This book goes on my list of "things I wish I'd had when I was a kid." A YA novel that adults can definitely enjoy and learn from. I fell in love with Riley, the main character, from page one. One of the best books I've read in a long time.
Symptoms of Being Human was a great read. I really enjoyed how it put the reader in the shoes of a gender fluid teenager. Since I don't identify as such, it was a really eye-opening experience. I found the choice of not including any pronouns for Riley interesting, and out of the few books I've read about non-cisgender people, I've never seen it done. Whether or not you are gender fluid, I strongly recommend this book.
A 2018-2019 Missouri Gateway Readers Award preliminary nominee (grades 9-12).
Riley's life is complicated. Riley just started at a new school after the school year had already begun. Riley's father is running for reelection to the House of Representatives. Oh, and Riley is gender fluid, which means that on any given day Riley might feel more like a boy or a girl, and Riley is not out. On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts a blog, and the blog goes viral and gets more attention than Riley wanted.
I devoured this book, but there were a few things I didn't love about it. I felt like the author veered a little too close to afterschool special territory sometimes. I would advise against the audiobook, although I looked it up on Audible, and I appear to be in the minority.
What an excellent read! I learned so much. At first, I thought it was a little cheeky -- especially the whole I've got an anonymous blog and it has my deepest darkest secrets and it's suddenly popular and it gets revealed. That basic plot line was a struggle for me. HOWEVER, that said, I fell in love with the characters, Riley, Solo, Bev the whole lot of them. It was dynamic and interesting and honest. Also, I instantly liked it more when the book took a serious turn. It earned so much more respect from me when that happened and I was able to let the cheeky plot line issues go in light of that turn and that challenge presented to the characters and the storyline.
Aside from Magnus Chase and The Hammer of Thor, I have never read about a gender fluid character and, like I said, I learned a lot and feel more educated for having read this book.
I've read this before and I'm checking it out so I can read it again. As a genderfluid teen, this book is not only an enjoyable story but it's also relatable.
Such a good read! I was pulled right into the story, I learned some things along the way, but I wasn't ready when it was finished! Quick read.
A really good book! I liked the story and it was really original with Riley's dad being so important in the government so Riley had to lay low. I would have preferred that the author had specified what pronouns Riley uses as I found it a bit realistic that no one called Riley any pronouns throughout the entire book. Also, Riley seemed to think there were only two sets of pronouns (either he or she) when in fact there are many more! If Riley didn't know what gender a person was Riley would refer to them as "he or she" when in fact "they" (!!) in a great alternative. Other than that a really great read!
A well written, informative story about a gender fluid teenager struggling to find acceptance and self love. Riley's story is inspiring and an important one for those who can relate, and for those wanting to learn more about gender fluidity and the transgender community. Some strong language and violence, so best for a mature teen or adult audience - but definitely recommended.
Yet another disgusting example of a queer character ending up a victim of sexual assault. There was no point to that being in the story and with actual Real Life Queer individuals being continually assaulted in staggering numbers, it doesn't need to be anywhere near a young adult novel. It does nothing for the plot and is a sickening device used by a cis author who has obviously never lived the experience.
I wouldn't recommend that anyone read this book in a million years.
This was a fantastic book! Riley, as a gender fluid teenager sometimes feels like a boy and at other times feels like a girl. This is more common than a lot of people think. Not only was this well written, but I found it a great book for those who may be gender fluid or other non-binary option, and for those who are seeking to know more about what it's like to be non-binary(not being a girl or a boy).
The author's note is especially nice at the end, explaining why the author decided to write the book.
This is a book I will highly recommend to anyone looking for non-binary characters in YA.
More books like this need to exist. Riley is a genderfluid main character, and as such, the biological assigned gender is never actually pointed out.
When I started reading this, I was asking the same question Riley presents in the beginning, "The first thing you're going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?"
Why does that disconnect exist? Why do we need to categorize? All these questions are explored in Symptoms of Being Human, and I think everyone can relate to that aspect of the book.
When I began reading, I wanted to know the answer, but as Jeff Garvin points out in the author's note at the end: "I got to know Riley not as a "boy" character or a "girl" character or as a "transgender" character, but as a human being--and I knew that this was the experience I wanted my readers to have, too."
I'll be honest: it was hard for me to separate myself from my need to categorize Riley, which made me so much more AWARE of the struggle trans, genderqueer, and genderfluid people face on a daily basis. At the end of the day, we're PEOPLE.
I think Garvin succeeded. I fell in love with Riley because of Riley being a downright powerful character.
Is Riley a boy or a girl? Well... we as readers never find out. That's what makes this book one I will think about for years.
Riley is gender fluid. There are days when the feminine side shows through and days being male is the thing to do. Riley starts an anonymous blog and it goes viral.
I wish more people would get over themselves and be ok with things. It's not like your going to catch it.