Published by Balzer + Bray on February 2nd 2016
Source: Publisher, Edelweiss
Genres: Contemporary, LGBT, Romance, Young Adult
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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.
The issue that Symptoms of Being Human tackles is something I’ve never read before. This novel features a gender fluid character and the struggles that come with coming out as a gender fluid individual, especially when nobody understands what it means or what it’s like to continually switch between identifying as a male and a female.
I thought this novel was very informative and it was evident how much research had gone into this book. It provided a lot of great information about what it’s like to live as a gender fluid individual, including all the struggles they face due to others misunderstanding them. The book also highlights how often gender fluid and transexual individuals are assaulted and how rarely these incidents are reported. Despite having a large amount of information, this book never felt info-dumpy. Most of the information was presented in the blog posts that Riley shared online and these felt separate and distinct enough from the plot and story that they never interfered with the flow of the book. I appreciated how much I learnt about gender fluidity and I’m glad that this book is out there in the world.
Gender identity is not external. It isn’t dictated by your anatomy. It’s internal. It’s something you feel, not something you see – and it can be way more complicated than just male or female.
As much as I liked the learning experience, I didn’t find the reading experience to be as enjoyable. This book doesn’t really have much of a plot or story arc. It feels very slice of life and throughout the whole book, we mainly see Riley’s daily anxieties and troubles, without any real plot. While this is a coming out story, and there’s a lot of focus on Riley growing stronger as a person and finding his/her own purpose in life, it never felt like Riley had any intention of coming out. Everything seemed very accidental and nothing that happened in the plot came across to me as purposeful on Riley’s part. Having said that, I did enjoy Riley’s development in the book and it kind of carried the plot and kept it from being boring.
Son of a bitch; blogging is therapeutic.
As a blogger, I really enjoyed that Riley used blogging as a way of letting out emotions and thoughts. I liked following Riley’s journey from starting a blog and having no followers, to slowly accumulating comments and followers who appreciated the things that Riley posted. It reminded me a lot of my own journey as a blogger (though I’ll never ever get to the 50,000 followers that Riley has). I liked being able to see the responses that Riley’s readers had towards the content that was posted, and that these comments had an effect on Riley’s growth and everyday life.
In terms of Riley’s character, I loved that we never got to find out what Riley’s biological gender was. There were a lot of instances where it could have been revealed but the author chose to omit that information, which I appreciated because it doesn’t really matter. Riley chooses to dress and act in a neutral manner, which made her quite an enigmatic character to me. There wasn’t anything about Riley that made him/her stand out to me and, as a result, Riley was a pretty unmemorable character. Without the gender fluidity, and the rareness of this topic in YA, I don’t think I would remember Riley after a couple of months. Riley’s character did have a great voice and it was snarky and funny at times, but I also found him/her to be too whiny and weak during other times. I did really enjoy the friendships in this book though, and some of the side characters made up for the annoyance that I sometimes felt towards Riley’s character. Riley’s friends were just so supportive and non-judgmental. Their acceptance of Riley was so beautiful to see.
Symptoms of Being Human was a great book about gender fluidity and had lots of well-researched and detailed information about the subject. While I found the plot to be a little bit lacking, the learning experience more than made up for the slightly plotless story. This novel is an LGBTQ+ novel done right.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Thanks to HarperCollins for the eARC.
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