Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
Published by HarperCollins on February 2nd 2016
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.
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Wow. I don’t even know where to begin. I finished this book a while ago, and I have been trying to write this review for a long time. I can’t seem to find words that are good enough to do this book justice. Reading this book was such a wonderful experience and I don’t feel like I am eloquent enough to describe it to you properly.
Symptoms of Being Human is a story about Riley, a gender fluid teen trying to navigate a new high school and deal with the pressures of being the child of a Congressman. Riley isn’t out yet, and starts a blog as an outlet, hoping it will help with the anxiety and stress that is a daily occurrence. The blog becomes a huge success, and Riley seems to be doing well, until an anonymous reader online threatens to expose Riley’s secret to the world.
I cried so many times while I was reading this book. I cried because, even though I haven’t had to deal with the same struggles as Riley, I found so much in Riley’s story that I could sympathize with. I cried because of the horrible cruelty that unfortunately still exists in our world. I cried because of the amazing kindness that also exists, and works every day to fight against the cruelty. Riley’s story felt so real and relatable. I felt like the characters were a part of my life and I found myself caring so much about their story and what was happening to them.
One of my absolute favorite things about this book is that you never find out what gender Riley was assigned at birth. Because you know what? It’s not important. It truly doesn’t matter what is underneath Riley’s clothes. Sometimes Riley identifies as a girl. Sometimes Riley identifies as a boy. Sometimes Riley feels caught in the middle. Don’t you think that is hard enough to deal with without us demanding to know a birth-assigned gender?
This was one of the first books I read in 2016, and I am positive that it will remain one of my favorite books of the year. I know I will be rereading it multiple times and recommending it to everyone I know. I think this story is such an important one for people to read. I identify as the gender I was assigned at birth, so I will never be able to truly understand the pain and anxiety associated with Riley’s story. But I know that I am a better person for having read this story, and I know it will change you if you read it too.
Meet the author!
Before becoming a novelist, Jeff Garvin acted on TV and toured as the lead singer of a rock band. He has a BFA in Film from Chapman University and lives in Southern California, surrounded by adorable, shedding beasts.
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