Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
(Website, Blog, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads)Published by HarperCollins on February 2nd 2016
Genres: Adolescence, Bullying, LGBT, Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, Social Issues, Young Adult
A sharply honest and moving debut perfect for fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Ask the Passengers.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.From debut author Jeff Garvin comes a powerful and uplifting portrait of a modern teen struggling with high school, relationships, and what it means to be a person.
I have to admit that I was both incredibly intrigued and a bit unsure of how I would feel about this book when I submitted my request to be a part of the blog tour for it. I read the summary and was immediately drawn to the premise of a gender-fluid teen struggling with knowing who they are but not being able to express it and still feel safe and secure in their life, not only at school, but at home too.
The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?
I’m just going to be straight up honest here because from the very first page, I was trying to figure out what Riley’s birth gender was. It’s habit… it’s even discussed quite in depth in the story too, and I think it’s understandable to a certain point. But what Garvin does here is totally genius… he doesn’t make that a part of the story because how Riley was born isn’t important to who Riley is today.
And who is Riley? Well, first and foremost Riley’s a teen struggling with the constraints people put on gender identification. Riley’s known the name … gender-fluid, for about a year, and fluctuates between feeling female some days to male others and even somewhere in between on other days.
Riley is complex and layered and interesting and witty and snarky and just all the things that I really love in a main character and I think many of you will connect with Riley because of those reasons alone.
Riley’s therapist suggests a journal of sorts to help sort out feelings and get thoughts on paper and out of Riley’s head… but Riley goes one step further and decides to set up an anonymous blog to share things that only Riley’s therapist knows. And it unexpectedly goes viral and it’s overwhelming … and a bit scary.
Scary because Riley’s dad is up for re-election to congress and while Riley’s parents suspect something, they have no clue what is really going on, and if it were to get out before Riley can gather the courage to sit them down and have a discussion it could be bad. Despite that, Riley can’t stay away from the blog… sharing and supporting the people who have reached out has quickly become the cause his therapist suggest Riley find. But some anonymous comments have Riley on edge.
I thought Garvin did a really amazing job with the relationships in this story. He certainly didn’t sugar coat the backlash someone gets for struggling with their gender identity but he also shows that there are people out there who understand, and even shows that if someone doesn’t quite understand it, they’re willing to learn and I hope that someday there will be more people willing to understand that who we are on the outside may not be who we feel we are on the inside.
I also want to mention the friendships that Garvin has created among the characters. Sure Riley is our main character but the friends, Solo and Bec specifically, are a big part of this story too. It was amazing to see Riley finally find connections and learn to trust people with this secret and it was amazing to see these two people support Riley and not turn their backs because of it.
I will say that I had figured out quite early who was the anonymous commenter to Riley’s blog, so that reveal for me wasn’t much of a mystery, but I liked that it added a bit of a twist to the story. Though I did feel like the resolution and who all was involved and why was a bit unfinished, especially Sierra’s involvement and story. I get that some people hate just to hate but she kept popping up in the story and in ways that I thought we’d get more of what was going on with her, as well as some growth in her character.
This is such an important book though and I hope that people will read it with an open mind and learn from it. It touches on bullying and violence toward the queer community and it does it without being preachy or disrespectful and it’s incredibly eye-opening to learn some of the statistics.
Despite the heavy feel to the story, this was actually a pretty quick read for me. I found that I was so invested in Riley’s story that I just didn’t want to put the book down until the I hit that last page, and even when I turned it, I still wanted to know what was next for Riley.
If you’re looking for an emotional read about learning to love who you are both inside and out, a story about finding the people who love you for you, a story about empowering yourself and getting past the uncertainty of who you are and who you’re supposed to be, you’ll definitely want to check this book out.
I’ll definitely be waiting for more from Jeff Garvin in the future!