Monday, 20 March 2017

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Symptoms of Being Human

 Series: N/A
Author: Jeff Garvin
Page Count: 352
Published: February 2nd, 2016
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
  4 Stars ★★★★

Riley is the child of a congressman, loves rock music, and is genderfluid. They aren't out to anyone but their therapist yet, but they start an anonymous blog under the name Alix so that they can discuss their experiences as a genderfluid person. When Riley moves to a new school, they experience harassment and bullying, but they also make a few friends. Suddenly, their blog becomes extremely popular, and it appears that somebody may know Riley's true identity. Will Riley have the courage to come out before somebody reveals their identity to the world for them?

I was super, super, SUPER excited to read this book. There are very, very few genderfluid characters in books, and so as a genderfluid person myself I was really hoping that someday, a genderfluid character would appear. Then one day, this book was recommended to me, and my wish was fulfilled! I was certainly not disappointed with this book, though it didn't exactly blow my mind, either.

First off, I was impressed with the way that the author depicted gender dysphoria. Actually, by reading this book, I found another way to describe dysphoria, so I'm thankful! It appears that the author did his research concerning what its like to be genderfluid in a world where just the idea of someone being nonbinary provokes confusion or even mockery. I think that the author writing about a genderfluid character was a brave step, and I'm hoping that it's one that will help people to consider including nonbinary characters in their own books in the future.

Riley as a character, as a person, reminded me a lot of myself and of other nonbinary people I know! Riley's taste in music and clothing gave them a distinct image, and their struggle with anxiety and depression was incredibly relatable. While Riley seemed a bit reactive and dramatic at times, these flaws added to their character and deepened my understand of their flaws and struggles. It was interesting how Riley interpreted different interactions, and often their attitude really mirrored real life. 

My main issue with this book was the bullying. Bullying is certainly an unfortunately common occurrence, especially for LGBTQ people. However, the bullying depicted in this book seemed fairly unrealistic or just cliche. The bullying was at times even cheesy, and occasionally I feel it went a bit over the top, or became fairly over-dramatic. Maybe things are different where I live as opposed to where the author lives, but I interpreted much of the bullying that Riley deals with as based on stereotypes, as opposed to real life. Now, the cyberbullying was well depicted, with the various trolls, anonymous haters, slurs, and even the threat of the online bullying extending into real life. I also want to mention that there is an instance in the book where a sexual assault, or at least a near-sexual assault, occurs, and this might upset some readers, so I felt it was important to include a warning in this review. While I think that it's important for some books to exist which don't mention serious issues, serious crimes, like this, against trans people, I think that this book incorporated this assault very well and depicted it realistically. I think this part is obvious, but this book was at times a very emotional experience for me, especially since I have such a connection with the main character.

I also feel like there was a bit of an awkward use of pronouns within the book. For example, the author used things like "she/he" or "she...or he?" and similar pieces, when characters of indeterminate gender were present. At times this felt awkward to read as it didn't fit well into the sentences, and I'd suggest that authors make use of the singular "they", as it sounds smoother and also spreads the general awareness that there is, in fact, a valid gender neutral pronoun for people to use if necessary or requested.

Overall, this emotional book captured a lot of important details of what it means to be a genderfluid person. While I had issues with the somewhat cliche bullying and the awkward use of multiple pronouns, I was not disappointed and I hope to read more books by this author in the future. 

I recommend this book to readers looking for something with a genderfluid main character. If you are a fan of LGBTQ novels, and you like contemporary young adult stories, this book is for you.

(Note: the author uses "gender fluid" with a space, but I prefer to spell it as one word, "genderfluid", so I used my preferred spelling in this review).