Mar 21, 2016

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Title: Symptoms of Being Human
Author: Jeff Garvin
Genre: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction, LGBT
Publication Date: February 2, 2016

Symptoms of Being Human centers around a genderfluid teenager named Riley. Because of this I want to start off this review with a disclaimer: I’m a cis girl, and while I try my hardest, I obviously will never be able to completely understand nor appreciate the struggles that trans people go through. Please let me know if I get anything wrong or if I'm offensive in any way; I’ll be happy to learn more and to be able to correct my mistakes.

Something that I really like about this book is that the gender Riley was assigned at birth is never mentioned. It’s never important or relevant to the story, and just as Riley’s classmates don’t have the right to know, neither do the readers. Riley is genderfluid, and it’s left at that, which I really appreciated.

I found it hard to get immersed in Riley's story. For example, it stood out to me while reading that they/them or any other gender neutral pronouns were never mentioned throughout the book. It seemed as if Riley didn’t know that gender neutral pronouns existed, and while with the environment Riley grew up in that would make sense, it made it hard to believe that Riley had done as much research about gender fluidity as the book had suggested. This was something that definitely seemed a little odd to me, and even though didn’t really affect the rest of the book much, it made me pause in my reading.

While the lack of gender neutral pronouns seemed a bit weird, it wasn't my main concern about this book. A few months ago I saw this post on tumblr, and I thought that it was pretty solid advice:

I’m sharing this because as far as I can tell, Jeff Garvin is cisgender, and this is largely a story about being genderfluid and coming out. As a girl who likes other girls I think I’d feel a little iffy about a straight person writing a book that revolves around a non-straight girl’s sexuality, and I’m wondering if this viewpoint applies in this case as well. I could be completely off base about this, and as a cis person my opinion on this doesn’t really mean much. I guess I’m more asking the question - if you’re trans, how do you feel about a cis person writing about the experiences of a transgender teenager?

As curious as I am about your opinions, this question doesn’t really factor into my rating. As a book, I liked it but it’s not a new favorite or anything. I don’t think that the characters were explored as fully as they could have been, and it seemed that the story was trying to get a message across more than focusing on an interesting plot. This isn’t a bad thing, it just wasn’t what I went into the book looking for. That being said, it’s rare to find a book with a trans protagonist, especially one who’s non-binary, and it was a nice read overall, especially representation-wise.

My rating: 2.5/5 badly drawn books

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