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Symptoms of Being Human

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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.

352 pages, Kindle Edition

First published February 2, 2016

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About the author

Jeff Garvin

2 books479 followers
Jeff Garvin is an author, musician, and actor. His debut novel, Symptoms of Being Human, is an ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection, a Lambda Literary Award Finalist, a Goodreads Choice Semifinalist, and garnered starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly. Before becoming a novelist, Jeff 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.

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5 stars
7,400 (41%)
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3 stars
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271 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,615 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,990 reviews298k followers
January 21, 2016
The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?

I'm glad this book exists. I really am. Unlike What We Left Behind, which completely misrepresents gender fluidity, Symptoms of Being Human provides plenty of information about being gender fluid, reminds us that there are many ways to be gender fluid, and will probably make gender fluid teens feel less alone.

BUT. I am a real believer in the power of fiction. In my life, I have taken more from powerful stories than I have from any reference book, encyclopaedia or biography. I truly believe that a tale about someone going through the same experiences is so much more meaningful than reading up on the facts. And I think that's where this book loses something.

Symptoms of Being Human is very informative, told by a charismatic narrator called Riley. Riley is a sympathetic character and the bullying they endure will surely speak to readers. But it still feels like a lot of information and no story arc. Riley explains over and over what gender fluidity means, how it makes them feel every day, what it was like being a child in a gendered toy store.

The plot, however, is virtually non-existent. This information kind of hangs around without direction and there is no sense that the book is ever going anywhere. What are we reading towards? There is nothing to discover. No sense that Riley is "waiting to come out" or anything like that. It's an exploration of everyday thoughts and, personally, I thought it wasn't enough.

It's *almost* good. Perhaps it would have made a better short story, rather than a full-length novel. Perhaps it will work for readers who have never heard of gender fluidity and are prepared to read lots of information. For those already open-minded and somewhat informed - it's a little boring.

I think a much more powerful LGBT book - though about being transgender, not gender fluid - is George. That book is subtle, with the information weaved into a story that is heartbreaking without feeling manipulative. I really wish Symptoms of Being Human had delivered something equally powerful.

However, I appreciate that Riley's biological sex is never revealed. I'm sure many readers will see that as a mystery to be solved, but that misses the point of the whole book. I'm glad we never know what's in Riley's pants. You know why? Because it's none of our damn business :)

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Profile Image for Max.
103 reviews62 followers
July 11, 2018

Which is the problem with this book, and why it let me down so much after I looked forward to it so eagerly: it's written by a cis person and, whatever the author's notes may say, it feels like it's written for other cis people. There are other indications in the story besides the narrative trajectory that the author is very definitely cis - simple things like spelling ("gender fluid" and "cismale" instead of "genderfluid" and "cis male"; genderfluid is one word and cis is an adjective, people) to broader things like the tendency to explain gender in very 101 terms even when it's not appropriate for the character - but is what took this book from a fairly good read to a letdown, for me. I'm just so tired of gratuitous trans misery.

Which isn't to say the book didn't do some things right! Riley's dysphoria and anxiety felt very true to my experience of both, in a way that really tugged at my heart. I loved Riley in general, and I loved Solo and Bec even if they felt underdeveloped at times. Doctor Ann was a good fictional therapist, for the most part, and those are pretty rare. And the overall reason this book gets three stars from me is because it felt so good to read about a character whose gender identity is similar to my own, for once in my goddamn life. But I can't give it a higher rating, and I don't recommend it to other trans people, because it's just too preoccupied with the standard old miserable narrative we've all seen too many times before.
Profile Image for ♛Tash.
223 reviews212 followers
February 9, 2016

Symptoms of Being Human is an illuminating novel on gender fluidity and LGBTQA in general for that matter. It chronicles a particularly poignant point in the life of our main character, Riley Cavanaugh, who is gender-fluid.

The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?

Riley's gender has always been a subject of speculation by everyone he/she meets. This kind of attention causes significant distress to Riley, as he/she just wants to be left alone to feel and become a boy some days and a girl on some.

The human impulse to categorize is strong. We'd poke and we'd prod until we figure it out. It's easier to categorize in black and white, man and woman, good and evil, but we all know it's always more complicated than that. In between black and white is a whole spectrum of colors.We see that impulse here in Symptoms of Being Human, the attempts to figure out what's between Riley's legs from ignorantly invasive questions to outright violence. The book kept true its essence by keeping this info a complete mystery all throughout.

The extent of Garvin's research is admirably comprehensive. I learned a lot about the non-binary and, more often than not unfortunately, the stigma that comes with it. According to this book...

64% of transgender and non-binary people in the US experience sexual violence in their life—12% before they graduate high school. 41% will attempt suicide.

As staggering as those figures are,the book still presented a more hopeful picture for the gender-fluid. As hard as Riley had it, there was no dearth of understanding and support. I appreciate the message it conveys, especially to the young and conflicted - that not everybody they meet will be a prejudiced prick and that they're not alone.

Jeff Garvin writes about gender-fluidity beautifully, let me share a few quotes:

The world isn’t binary. Everything isn’t black or white, yes or no. Sometimes it’s not a switch, it’s a dial. And it’s not even a dial you can get your hands on; it turns without your permission or approval.

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. Some people, like me, slide on a continuum between the two.

like I have a compass in my chest, but instead of North and South, the needle moves between masculine and feminine.

But why the 3 stars?

However compelling the message is, story-wise it's a bit of a disappointment. We follow Riley's daily struggles, even then there's a meandering quality to the narrative as if it's not entirely sure of that path it's going to take. Sure, I was enraged with Riley's plight but I did not feel the visceral connection I expected to feel when reading books about heavy issues, perhaps because of the underdeveloped plot.

Overall though, Symptoms of Being Human is an important read for gender-fluidity awareness.

***arc provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review***
Profile Image for Rachel  L.
1,864 reviews2,241 followers
November 17, 2016

3.5 stars

Gender fluid: a gender identity which refers to a gender which varies over time. A gender fluid person may at any time identify as male, female, neutrois, or any other non-binary identity, or some combination of identities. Their gender can also vary at random or vary in response to different circumstances. -Source: gender wiki

This is an incredibly interesting book and I learned a lot of new terms and subjects, as well as it changed the way I think about other people. This is the story of Riley, a gender fluid individual who is struggling to cope with anxiety and other issues such as starting at a new school.

When Riley's therapist suggests starting an anonymous blog, Riley is shocked when it becomes popular. But then someone discovers that Riley runs the blog, and everything just sort of explodes from there.

“The world isn't binary. Everything isn't black or white, yes or no. Sometimes it's not a switch, it's a dial. And it's not even a dial you can get your hands on; it turns without your permission or approval."

I think this is an important book, like I said earlier I learned a lot from it and think others will too. My issue with it was it was more information strong than plot strong. I learned all of these things, but I don't feel there was much of a story. The side characters were there only to enhance Riley, and there were a few personal tidbits thrown in, but they didn't feel real to me. Just there to supplement Riley's issues.

I also felt for a teen struggling with issues of gender fluidity that Riley was very in touch with his/her thoughts and had way more insight than a struggling teen would have (this is just my opinion everyone, I can already feel people ready to argue with me). Plus the story always had perfectly timed issues where something would happen and I found myself thinking "wow that's convenient timing."

I sound like a grump. I did like this book, but sitting down after reading it I found way too many head scratching moments to really love it. The surface of the story was scatched but I felt it could have gone much deeper. I wish for more with the parents, more of a development of Bec and Solo, heck even Vickers. BUT many teens will love this, and I hope the right teens read it and it changes the way they think. I know I found myself wanting to know Riley's gender at the beginning before thinking later that it didn't matter. And I will do my best not to put people into categories.

“I can't blame you for trying to categorize me. It's a human instinct. It's why scientists are, to this day, completely flabbergasted by the duck-billed platypus: it's furry like a mammal, but lays eggs like a bird. It defies conventional classification.
I AM THE PLATYPUS (Coo coo ka-choo)”

Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,478 reviews7,775 followers
February 26, 2016
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

“The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?”

And that’s one thing you’ll never find out, so it’s better to go in knowing it. Riley Cavanaugh’s story is one you probably haven’t read before – that of a gender fluid teenager. As the book says regarding gender . . .

“Honestly, there’s so much information out there, and a lot of it contradicts itself. The pronouns and the terminology, it’s very complex.”

It is and that’s why it’s so important that MANY stories like this get written. For Riley, gender identification works as “a dial, not a switch.” Sometimes Riley feels feminine, some days masculine. However, Riley always remains ��gender neutral” due to the fact that he/she has not yet come out to the parental units (or anyone else for that matter).

You’re probably wondering why the low(ish) rating if I thought this was such an important book, huh? Well, the problem for me (dear trolls, really think a second about coming to any reviews on a book about treating others with respect and then commencing to disrespect the reviewer) was with the execution. Riley was not a very likeable character for me throughout the majority of the story. He/she was quick to take offense at nearly everything and everyone while being super quick to place labels on others immediately without giving it second thought. And while Riley did end up experiencing horrible things that no one should ever have to, the words of one of the characters early in the story really rang true . .

“High school sucks for everyone.”

Okay, maybe not everyone, but for a lot of people. You just have to seek out the ones who will accept you for you . . .

Palm Springs commercial photography

Another issue I had with the story was the parents. It was refreshing to actually have parents in a YA novel, but these two were pretty terrible. To begin with, there are only 535 people in Congress period. Of those there are even fewer of breeding age so seriously with the “can’t come out because my dad is running for reelection” storyline. It’s hard enough to come out if your parents are Average Joes so there was no need for Riley’s father to be anything other than that. Speaking of coming out. It’s effing 2016. Riley’s parents obviously loved him/her and were simply not sure of what was going on with regard to Riley’s gender/sexuality. The idea that parents like that would never bother asking questions or offer support was not realistic to me at all. Speaking as a straight old lady, we may not always understand everything, but parents like Riley’s were the type who would listen and accept without judgment.

Finally, the message itself. It was wonderful, but it was repeated sooooooo many times that it became almost preachy. This book could have easily been cut by 50-100 pages to eliminate the repetitiveness.

Bottom line is this was a good addition to the world of LGBTQIA young adult literature and will hopefully help to finally get the message to sink in that . . .

“Maybe blending in is overrated.”

Palm Springs commercial photography

Parental warning: This book deals with heavy subject matter such as bullying, suicide and rape. While no graphic details are included, this is a book I would encourage you to read with your child so you can answer any questions.
Profile Image for Laurie Flynn.
Author 5 books1,097 followers
October 26, 2015
Sometimes, after turning page after page of a truly great book, you think, with total conviction: this book could change someone’s life. That’s how I felt more than once while reading SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN. But not only that—I also had another thought. This book could save someone’s life.

The protagonist in SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN, Riley Cavanaugh, is gender fluid and identifies as both a boy and a girl, depending on the day. Some mornings, Riley wakes up and feels more girl; others, Riley’s compass is pointing toward boy. Although Riley’s parents don’t know the truth, Riley starts a blog anonymously, under the name “Alix,” to share what it’s like to be a gender fluid teenager. As Alix, Riley is open and honest and real, and begins to realize the number of gender fluid and LGBT people looking for someone who understands—but Riley is still waiting for the right time to come out in real life. To add to this, Riley has just transferred schools and struck up a friendship—and maybe more— with enigmatic Bec, who has secrets of her own.

Riley’s voice is everything I could ever want in a YA narrator. Snarky, whip-smart, thoughtful, brave, and authentically teen. And I can honestly say that seeing the world through Riley’s eyes opened mine. I loved that Riley wasn’t perfect and at times, made the same judgments or assumptions about other people that people make about gender fluid or trans individuals.

There are so many brilliant lines in this book, so many powerful truths. But this is my favorite one:

“People are complicated. And messy. Seems too convenient that we’d all fit inside some multiple-choice question.”

Nobody should be confined to identifying as male or female if that doesn’t match how they feel inside. Why do we need to know whether Riley is a boy or a girl? What does that label matter, and what does it mean, anyway? Being a boy or girl isn’t the body you were born with. It’s what is inside you, and if you’re gender fluid, it can be a spectrum that changes from day to day.

As I read, I started thinking about all the people who don’t have access to the Internet, who may not have access to books like this, who don’t know the support is there, who might need it most. The violence and hatred toward gender fluid and LGBT individuals breaks my heart and makes me both overwhelmingly sad and completely enraged. I’m confident that this book—this smart, sensitive, wonderful, courageous book—will open up a dialogue that needs to be had, will open doors for people that were previously closed. I hope this book reaches every single person who needs it, teens and adults alike, because I think it has the power to change lives. And save them.
Profile Image for Mk.
181 reviews
January 29, 2018
Read “Mask of Shadows” instead. I really did not like this book. Authors who aren't trans (an umbrella term that encompasses genderfluid) and have nothing to do with our community need to stop writing about things they know nothing about. Let's break it down.

1) The first sign that this was going to be bad came early - page 6 - when Riley gets called "it" at school and then goes to go hide in the BATHROOM. Nobody who's trans or nonbinary is ever, ever going to choose the bathroom as a place to be. Outside of locker rooms perhaps, there's nowhere scarier.

2) I get that the author thinks it's radical to not include Riley's pronouns and that it will make the reader think. Here's the thing though. People use pronouns when they talk. And when those pronouns don't match up with how you feel, it stings. To not show that really real pain because you think it's a cute literary device does trans people a disservice.

3) While we're on the subject of pronouns, Riley mispronouns people all the time, and then corrects themselves based on revised assumptions that still very well might be wrong. Go to any queer or trans support group and the first thing you'll see is people introducing themselves with both their name and pronouns. Don't know someone's pronouns? Just ask. Politely. It's easy. Leaving this out takes away an opportunity for the author to teach readers how to be better allies.

I really hope this book fades into the background and doesn't end up on LGBTQ book lists for teens. As a trans librarian who works with young people, this is me begging the other librarians and educators reading this to not give this to the teens you work with. There are better things out there.
Profile Image for Sarah Elizabeth.
4,739 reviews1,306 followers
December 17, 2015
(Source: I received a digital copy of this book for free on a read-to-review basis. Thanks to HarperCollins and Edelweiss.)

“The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?”

This was an interesting book about a gender fluid teen and her struggles to cope with her gender issues.

Riley was an interesting character, and I felt like we got a feel for her/him even though we never found out what gender he/she was. (I’m just going to use feminine pronouns for now) Her troubles seemed genuine though, and dysphoria that she went through seemed pretty awful, not to mention the bullying.

The storyline in this was about Riley’s struggle to understand herself, as well as her struggles with how she presented herself to other people, and her indecision over what to tell her parents about herself.
There was a tiny bit of romance in this, but not a lot.

The ending to this was okay, although the mystery of what gender Riley actually was was never solved.

6.5 out of 10
Profile Image for Kurt Dinan.
Author 15 books185 followers
July 24, 2015
The world is a better place because this book exists. It will make readers more compassionate and empathetic. I can't think of a stronger endorsement than that.
Profile Image for Sierra.
304 reviews20 followers
March 16, 2018
There are no words for how much I had loved this book. I thought that the story was beautifully written and had a powerful message behind it. I loved every single thing about this book. From the characters, to the plot line, and to the message that was being given. Every relationship that Riley had made I absolutely loved. I absolutely loved the relationships he had made with Bec and Solo that we so understanding on what Riley was going through and supported him no matter what. Tears may or may not have welled up in my eyes a few times. I had a hard time not trying to look like a idiot while reading this book. I wanted to smile, laugh out loud, and cry many times but I was surrounded by people.

Some Quotes that I Loved or Thought Had an Important Message To Them :

1.) “We’re all taught from a young age that there are only two choices: pink or blue, Bratz or Power Rangers, cheer leading or football. We see gender in two dimensions because that’s what society has taught us from birth. But, are you ready for a shocking revelation?

2.) “The world isn't binary. Everything isn't black or white, yes or no. Sometimes it's not a switch, it's a dial. And it's not even a dial you can get your hands on; it turns without your permission or approval" -Riley”

3.) “I can't blame you for trying to categorize me. It's a human instinct. It's why scientists are, to this day, completely flabbergasted by the duck-billed platypus: it's furry like a mammal, but lays eggs like a bird. It defies conventional classification.
I AM THE PLATYPUS (Coo coo ka-choo)”

4.) “People do judge books by their covers; it’s human nature. They react to the way you look before they hear a single word that comes out of your mouth.”

5.) “At some point during my research, I came across the term "gender fluid." Reading those words was a revelation. It was like someone tore a layer of gauze off the mirror, and I could see myself clearly for the first time. There was a name for what I was. It was a thing. Gender fluid.
Sitting there in front of my computer--like I am right now--I knew I would never be the same. I could never go back to seeing it the old way; I could never go back to not knowing what I was.
But did that glorious moment of revelation really change anything? I don't know. Sometimes, I don't think so. I may have a name for what I am now--but I'm just as confused and out of place as I was before. And if today is any indication, I'm still playing out that scene in the toy store--trying to pick the thing that will cause the least amount of drama. And not having much success.”

6.) “I think you assume everyone is going to be your enemy. And by doing that, you sort of make it come true.”

7.) “That’s none of your business,” I say. “And, while I’m flattered by your interest, you’re really not my type.”

8.) “Look. I don't expect you to spill your guts to me. Your business is your business. Dress how you want to dress. Let people wonder. Fuck 'em."
I smile.
Solo raised a finger. "But you've got to stop looking for a fight every time someone makes a comment. High school sucks for everyone."
I feel my smile fade, and I sit back in the chair. "It kind of feels like you're defending those guys."
Solo shrugs. "There will always be guys like Jim Vickers. But I'm not going to let them stop me from doing what I want. And neither should you.”

9.) "It means me and the rest of the guys on the team have your back. Anybody tries to f*ck with you, they'll wish they were safe in prison."
I gape at Solo, at the sudden ferocity in his eyes.
He glanes over at me. "What?"
"I've just never seen you go all papa bear like that. It's kind of hot."
Solo's cheeks redden, and he adjusts his grip on the steering wheel.

10.) When she gets out of the car, she glances at me, and then does a double take.
"Wow," she says. "You look....extremely hot."
I blush with the fire of five thousand suns.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,509 reviews29.5k followers
February 9, 2016
I was bullied quite a lot in high school because my lack of athleticism and my passion for music and drama made me an easy target. While there was a lot in high school I enjoyed, it was a tremendously stressful and traumatizing time in so many ways, and every day I wanted to escape the notice of my tormentors.

But as painful as that was, it doesn't hold a candle to the treatment of Riley Cavanaugh in Jeff Garvin's absolutely amazing Symptoms of Being Human .

"The first thing you're going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?"

Riley is a gender fluid teenager. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, some days as a girl. That certainly doesn't make things easy, or allow Riley's wish to simply blend in ever to be realized. To top it all off, Riley is about to start attending a new, public high school (things at the private Catholic school didn't go well, to put it mildly), and Riley's congressman father is locked in a tight re-election battle in his conservative Orange County district. It's more pressure than any teenager could bear, much less one struggling with understanding who they are, and keeping it all a secret.

When the pressure gets to be too much, Riley follows a therapist's advice: share. So Riley creates Alix, a fictional persona with tremendously similar characteristics, and starts to write a blog as an outlet. Riley doesn't realize how cathartic it will be to share feelings, fears, insecurities, frustrations—from when a new friend turns away rather than confront bullies, or the mysterious behavior of a punk-rocker girl that catches Riley's eye. And Riley quickly realizes there are so many people out there experiencing the same things and dealing with the same problems. It's the first time Riley has felt valued in a long while.

But while Riley's online persona does attract some negative feedback as well, the biggest problem comes when someone starts leaving comments on the blog hinting that they know who Riley is, and they threaten to expose who the real Alix is. This could pose a real problem, as Riley isn't ready to embrace the truth or share it with others. But the stalker isn't interested—and there's no better time to reveal Riley's secret than just before Election Day.

What an emotional, fantastic read this was! I actually read the entire book in less than two hours, thanks to some bronchitis-related insomnia. It was tremendously poignant and truly insightful, for while I don't understand what it is like to be gender fluid, I do understand what it's like to feel different, but to simply want to be able to live your life the way you want, with no one interfering. Garvin did a great job trying to make most of the characters, including Riley's parents, more sympathetic and complex, although the two real villains in the book didn't get the same treatment, so you didn't quite understand what pushed them to do what they did.

As I've said before, I believe it is so wonderful that books like this exist in today's world, and Symptoms of Being Human is such a good one. While we've come a long way in terms of public perception of sexuality and gender issues, there is still a long way to go, and it's important that today's teenagers and young adults have books and other resources to help them deal with their struggles instead of leaving them to harm themselves or take their own lives.

See all of my reviews at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo....
Profile Image for Paulo Ratz.
185 reviews4,996 followers
February 7, 2017
Finalizando janeiro com uma leitura super rápida e gostosa, mas cheia de coisa polêmica e necessária.

O livro aborda um tema bem complexo que começou a ser discutido por não muito tempo, que é a questão dos transgêneros que se identificam como pessoas de gênero fluido. O/A personagem principal se chama Riley e vamos ficar pra sempre sem saber se Riley nasceu menino ou menina. Depois de algumas páginas e uma boa reflexão (pq né, vamos ler e refletir sobre a vida real) a gente chega a conclusão que a mensagem do autor é essa. Não importa pra NINGUÉM se Riley tem pênis ou vagina, porque isso não afeta quem ela é.

Por mais que eu tenha pessoas próximas (minha melhor amiga, oi) que se identificam como gender fluid, é sempre desafiador tentar enxergar o mundo além binarismo de gênero. Mas consegui, pelo menos no livro, e acho que é uma experiência que eu recomendo que todos tenham. Não é o suficiente pra mudar a cabeça, mas é um ótimo exercício.

A única questão que me fez tirar 1 estrela, é que acho que alguns momentos, principalmente em diálogos, a escrita não parecia muito realista. Eu não conseguia ver aquilo acontecendo na prática. O final da história como um todo é interessante, mas a cena final é bem sessão da tarde.

A tradução está show, exceto pelaa expressão "TÔ SÓ O PÓ DA RABIOLA" qqqqq. Quem for comprar em fevereiro, que é o lançamento no Brasil, pela Plataforma 21, vai encontrar um trabalho gráfico FODA e uma história muito fofa.
3 reviews6 followers
February 11, 2018
I am nonbinary, so when I found a book with a nonbinary protagonist, I was ecstatic. Riley wasn't nonbinary in a world without gender, or in a world where gender means something different, or has different parameters. Riley is genderfluid in our world. I was so excited to read this book, to find a character I might finally be able to relate to.

I was completely disgusted and disappointed with the outcome.

First, as a book itself, it's rather weak. The plot barely exists, and the characters are hit or miss, meaning sometimes, the only thing keeping me reading was the existence of a genderfluid protagonist.

But as a book about a trans person, especially a nonbinary person, it fails completely. Riley is genderfluid, but they are not out. They dress as androgynously as possible so no one genders them as a boy or girl. This is not how reality works. I am an androgynous presenting nonbinary person, and living life without being gendered, especially when you are not out, is impossible. That is not how our world works, so I was immediately taken out of the story.

A second major issue is Riley's pronouns. Although I am using they/them in this review, in the book itself, Riley doesn't use pronouns, and never has their assigned gender defined. That is perfectly fine, some nonbinary don't like having pronouns used for them. And, especially for nonbinary people, assigned gender means little, so I applaud the author for trying not to get stuck in what their assigned gender was. But as I said before, Riley is not out. Living a life in which no one uses pronouns for you, especially your parents, doesn't work, so the dialogue is often incredibly clunky and poorly written, in order to avoid using pronouns. I recall one horribly written scene where Riley is being forced to dress up for a fancy event. Formal wear, traditionally, is completely binary. Men wear suits or tuxes, and women wear dresses. This leads to the cringeworthy situation of the author having to describe Riley putting the outfit on and their discomfort without defining whether they were putting on a dress or a suit. This is almost impossible to do. If the item isn't floor length, is flowy, has any sort of color or design or embellishment, has short sleeves or is in one piece, it has to be a dress, so the author felt like they were describing putting on a shapeless sack. It was laughably bad.

[spoliers] Then, of course there's the ending. Another old "trans person gets outed publicly without their consent and then sexually abused" ending. This is one of the only published books with a nonbinary character from our world who is a normal human. No ifs, ands, or buts, no technicalities or unrealistic rules. And they get raped in the end, with no resolution. This book makes me so upset. Don't dangle the promise of a nonbinary protagonist, representation for a completely invisible group, and then have it be torn to shreds by the statistics of rape against trans people. Give nonbinary people a character to relate to, to cheer for, to help them feel real. Not a hasty google search with a horrifying statistic tacked on to wrap it all up.

TL;DR: If you are nonbinary or care in any way for nonbinary people and their wellbeing, please, do not buy or recommend this book.
Profile Image for Kaje Harper.
Author 76 books2,537 followers
July 4, 2019
I really enjoyed this story - there are not many books out there with genderfluid main characters, and finding one that is also a great story is delightful.

Riley is the teen child of a congressman, and they narrate this story of their life with a persuasive voice. (In fact the one criticism here would be that Riley is too talented with words to be a teenager, but in the pleasure of the story and the importance of the message, I was willing to see them as gifted, and eloquent, without damaging the image of them as teen, and vulnerable.) We never find out what Riley's assigned-at-birth gender was, and it's done naturally enough that it encourages us to accept Riley as moving around at the middle of the gender spectrum, one day, or one moment, more feminine, and at other times more masculine.

Riley opens the book in the closet to everyone except their therapist, and presenting as agender (androgynous look) because it is the one way to keep their gender dysphoria from getting triggered too hard. But staying in the middle is a constant nagging irritation - when Riley identifies as more female, she would like to be able to wear lipstick and a dress. When he feels more masculine, he would prefer to dress that way. But moving past the ambiguous center in either direction opens the door for people to notice, and then to mock or question a swing the other way. Riley's not ready to deal with that.

Riley's therapist has suggested two coping strategies. One, to write out their confusion and emotions and hopes and fears. The other to find a cause to work for, helping others, to move some of their focus off their own issues. Riley ends up combining both. First, they begin an online blog under the pseudonym Alix, where they finally put into words some of their feelings about their gender identity. Then, when a young trans girl posts a message asking for advice, Riley is pulled into the world of genderqueer support, of reactions, violence, opportunities and online community. It's not always an easy place to be.

Riley is starting a new school, as the book opens, after leaving the hostile environment of private Catholic school. They meet a couple of apparently-friendly classmates, and some who are hostile just because they can't put Riley easily into a neat little box of "girl" or "boy". But as long as Riley isn't out with their fluidity, they're not getting a reaction to their true self. They have to both doubt whether new friends would still support them, and worry that casual comments and low-level bullying will escalate. And yet, every day of not coming out adds a bit more dysphoria, and anxiety, and compromise, to how they are living their life.

I really liked that this book gave us a realistic, sympathetic, imperfect picture of a genderqueer teen. The secondary characters have a plausible range of reactions. The parents are nicely in the gray zone of loving but not understanding their child, and having comments and little moments that make Riley afraid of how they will react to the full truth. I really liked that Riley was in therapy, and had anxiety, and that the issues of gender dysphoria were not downplayed or made too melodramatic. The plot does hit a strong climax moment, but not one unusual for genderqueer teens, unfortunately. We humans have a strong streak of cruelty and rejection of those different from ourselves, and LGBTQ people, especially those on the gender spectrum, are far too often the targets.

I'd love to hand this book to teens, and family, who are trying to understand what it means when we say gender is not binary, but a spectrum. Although there are minor flaws, sometimes it moves slowly or repeats important thoughts, and the moment of drama is perhaps strong and scary (although very subtly written) for younger teens who identify with Riley, this book is hopeful and positive and useful. The story is for the most part slower and low key - not a book to read specifically for the drama, but a book about a journey to understanding and accepting yourself, and others. A story about taking control of your own life. That you cannot change how some people react to you, but what you do with your response to that, in your own life, is your choice. And how much it matters to have support. Riley is eloquent and silent, brave and afraid, anxious and positive, and someone I'd like you all to meet.

Trigger warnings for
Profile Image for Erin.
3,091 reviews484 followers
November 29, 2017
3.5 stars round up to 4.

I had to consider my review for the last couple of days. A rarity for me as I often write reviews right away as soon as I close the book. Symptoms of Being Human was certainly a page turner and I read it in about 2 hours. This is the first YA read that I have selected that deals with the subject of a teenager being gender fluid. As I peruse the reviews of other Goodreads, many of the reviewers are much more knowledgeable about this subject. Aside from the fact that Riley takes to blogging and worries about being discovered, which reminded me just a tiny bit of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, I don't have quite the variety of reading material to fall back on with this subject.

I will say that I felt Riley was the type of character that I hooked onto immediately and I was very invested in learning how the story would play out. I am also interested in reading other titles of books that my fellow reviewers have mentioned on their own reviews.
Profile Image for Jacquelyn.
444 reviews203 followers
November 2, 2015

Look for a more coherent review soon. Just know that you NEED this one.
Profile Image for Gus .
84 reviews1,655 followers
August 15, 2017
Este es un libro muy importante. Da voz y representación a algo que lo necesita muchísimo.
Super recomendado!!
18 reviews
December 12, 2018
As an actual trans person, I cannot emphasize enough how much I hated this book. It's terrible. In choosing not to reveal Riley's gender assigned at birth (a choice I find unrealistic as well as insensitive), Garvin has written a book that barely reflects the trans experience whatsoever. It represents the trans experience in a way that's simultaneously vague and inaccurate.

The writing isn't great, either; even for a YA book, it lacks complexity. It's painfully predictable, and the characterization is shallow. It's as though Garvin made a list of exactly three traits for each character (vegan, punk rock, genderfluid) and never gave them a personality beyond those traits. For a book that has been lauded as groundbreaking, I was deeply disappointed. I feel like it could have been good, had the story been written by someone who was actually trans. But it wasn't, and it definitely shows.
Profile Image for Corvo.
92 reviews3 followers
November 22, 2018
1.5/5 Stars.

I don’t even know where to begin with this one.

First of all, just because this book deals with an important issue doesn’t make it good.

I don’t understand how Riley’s “Uber conservative” parents push absolutely no gender roles on them. They don’t use pronouns for them. They don’t say “wouldn’t you rather wear a dress/pants?” When I cut my hair kind of short like Riley’s my conservative parents wouldn’t shut up about how I looked like a boy.

The fact that others also don’t push gender roles onto Riley also cheapens their coming out. It’s obvious their parents know they’re not exactly a boy or girl. And the students at their school know too. It would make more sense if Riley became more and more gender neutral and their parents complained about their gender ambiguity, especially considering how “conservative” they apparently are.

Also Riley made like 4 posts on their website and got 50,000 followers. The blog they run is obviously a tumblr knock off. For them to receive that many followers in the span of a few weeks is bogus. At least in Fangirl it’s established that Cath has had her account for years and has been writing and updating consistently. Her following is earned. Riley’s doesn’t seem earned. It seems like a plot convenience.

There is a sexual assault in this book. It’s painfully vague. And it makes me wish books had a rating system like movies do so I know what I’m getting into.

Also, I know it’s been a while since I’ve been to high school but if I recall correctly no one in high school gives a shit about anything, especially in the 2010s. I grew up in the middle of absolute nowhere. It’s really obvious that I’m Not Straight and no one cared. Everyone in that school was conservative save for a few people. I doubt the bullies would care about whether Riley was a boy or a girl. I’m sure they could determine it based on the pronouns the teachers used.

TLDR sorry if this makes no sense. I’m very tired and this book REALLY rubbed me the wrong way.
Profile Image for Rahul Kanakia.
Author 30 books200 followers
June 8, 2019
Thought this was book was really good! Funny, sharp, and readable. And the form fits the content. Garvin does a great job of hiding the protagonist's assigned-at-birth gender in a way that doesn't feel forced: that mechanism by itself does a lot to hold up a mirror to the reader's own preconceptions. Book was filled with warmth and understanding, I blew through it a morning.

(I got an advanced reader copy of this book through an ARC tour for debut authors, but the copy carried no expectation or requirement that I review the book).
Profile Image for Mafi.
1,114 reviews202 followers
August 29, 2017
4.5 estrelas por tudo. Pela história, pela mensagem, pelas personagens e por tudo o que aprendi com ewle. Acho que é daqueles livros que pode ajudar muito a quem esteja a passar por algo semelhante, a quem esteja confuso com a sua identidade de género ou quem conheça alguém e queira ajudar.

Aprendi que não é sexo feminino ou masculino, é género. E que não há só estes géneros. Que transexual e transgénero não é a mesma coisa.
Gostei mesmo muito e recomendo.


Confesso que o que gostei mais do livro foi o facto de tudo parecer tão real. Embora nunca tenha lidado com nada do que aconteça neste livro nem conheça ninguém próximo que tenha passado algo semelhante, a forma como a história é contada faz-nos sentir uma boa empatia com a Riley, para além do facto que conseguimos perceber vários conceitos, não só como os que expliquei acima mas tantos outros. Alguns mesmo eu nunca tinha ouvido falar.
Gostei desta diversidade e fiquei um bocadinho mais entendida nestes assuntos. Além disso, gostei mesmo da forma como o autor não denuncia se a Riley é rapaz ou rapariga, embora a língua inglesa facilite um pouco esse trabalho. O mais engraçado de tudo é que realmente não fez diferença nenhuma não saber isso, pois a personagem em si é óptima.


É um livro que aconselho bastante. Retrata a identidade de género de uma maneira muito diferente do habitual e o melhor é entendermos que muitas vezes não sabemos o que vai na mente/vida de outra pessoa, nem o que ela está a passar. Ao termos aqui a perspectiva de alguém diferente, vemos também como podemos lidar com essa situação. Uma das mensagens do livro é mostrar a Riley que esta não está sozinha e há mais pessoas a passar pelo mesmo.
Eu apoio muito livros que tenham um teor pedagógico pois acredito que podemos aprender tudo, através dos livros. E se for contado de uma maneira cativante como este livro o faz, então ainda melhor e portanto se lerem em inglês, não deixem passar este livro.

Opinião completa: https://algodaodoceparaocerebro.blogs...
Profile Image for Olivia-Savannah.
783 reviews493 followers
February 21, 2016
Wow, you guys. Just wow.

I wanted to read this book because I wanted to know more about gender fluidity. So far, there are only two people I have come across in my whole life who I know are gender fluid, and if I am honest I didn’t know too much about what the two words meant. I could turn this review into a debate of whether or not gender fluidity is “real” or “right.” But right now I just want to review the book, so let’s discuss this one regardless of where you stand on those viewpoints. Because regardless of where you stand on those viewpoints, I still think you should read this one.

Riley is a character who sometimes feels more like a boy, and other times feels more like a girl. Riley’s father is a political figure and sometimes that can be a little stressful on the family because they have to keep up appearances all the time. But what I found particularly clever about Riley is that we never actually get to know what their actual gender is. Which, I think, is a good thing seeing as the aim of this book is to try and get the reader to understand that you don’t have to settle for one.

I was also pretty eager to try this book because of the fact that Riley has a blog that blows up and becomes more famous than they imagined. Being a blogger myself as well, I could relate to that element of things. And Riley’s blog posts, which we do get to see, were pretty interesting. They gave us a lot of insight into their character.

The thing that especially made this book for me were the characters. We get to know Riley so well, especially as they struggle from anxiety and are going through this pretty heavy emotional period of time in this novel. But the secondary characters were fleshed out incredibly well too. There was Solo who was this big bundle of fun and protectiveness and Bec who was a tough but mysterious kind of girl. I liked those two especially and how good for Riley they were, although maybe not all the time. Even though some people can be good, we all make mistakes.

Another important thing was how family had such a role in this one. Maybe not the biggest family ever since Riley is an only child, but a family all the same. Riley especially doesn’t want to ruin their father’s campaign, and wants to keep their mother happy, so you can understand the dilemma involving coming out as gender fluid. Riley’s parents are just trying to understand Riley most of the time, and you can see some of the family issues coming through, but some of the family love as well.

Towards the end I couldn’t stop read. I won’t give you any spoilers as to what happens, but by the end of the book I was moved and wanting to cry and smile at the same time. Make of that what you will!

Personally, I am (despite my previous claim) going to say that I didn’t agree with everything in this book. Despite that, everyone should still read it! Because whether you agree or not isn’t the point – this book can still teach you a little something about human decency and respect nonetheless.

This review and more can be found on Olivia's Catastrophe: http://olivia-savannah.blogspot.nl/20...
Profile Image for Ashley Blake.
Author 14 books4,601 followers
December 27, 2015
Gah, YOU GUYS. THIS BOOK. I absolutely adored Riley's story. It's not an easy one, but it's real and messy and so, so needed. Riley is a gender fluid teen searching for bravery, for a place, for a cause. Riley navigates bullying and anxiety with such authenticity, I found myself breathless for half of this novel. Garvin crafts a story that speaks to the emotionally and physically violent treatment genderqueer and trans persons deal with on a daily basis. He calls attention to this with both a sensitivity of how difficult it is to speak up and come out, but also with an urgency to support that speaking up and coming out.
Profile Image for Silvia .
642 reviews1,427 followers
August 7, 2017
(book #5 in my pride month challenge)

I can't blame you for trying to categorize me. It's human instinct.

4,5 stars!

This was insanely good and informative.

Despite me wanting to stay away from YA contemporaries for a bit, I wanted to read a book with a genderfluid character for research and I wanted it to be in our world because honestly I had Questions. So when someone recommended it to me I was ready to be a bit bored with the actual story but I decided I would go through with it even in the eventuality that I found the plot lacking or just "too typically YA", but it turned out to be a really good book even if you don't count its importance within the LGBT and more specifically the genderqueer community.

I consider this to be a good genderfluid 101 book because it really explains what someone who is genderfluid goes through on a daily basis (I mean, I suppose not every experience is the same and some gf people might not relate to certain aspects of this book, but that's true for everyone). It might be a little too informative sometimes, but that's what I was looking for in order to understand it a bit more.

The thing is, I am bored when important information (regarding LGBT+ issues etc) is given through dialogue in a YA because it never feels very organic. Like, that dialogue never feels like something that would happen that way IRL (at least not the way it happened in some of the last YA contemporaries I read). Here, however, almost everything regarding genderfluidity etc was tackled in the MC's, Riley, tumblr blog in the form of short blog posts. It's certainly an easy way out but it works and it was frankly what I wanted to read: I wanted big chunks of info that I could highlight on my kindle and find again easily.

Something the book didn't talk about at all is pronouns though. I understand the wish of the author to keep Riley's assigned gender hidden because that's irrelevant to Riley's story. Riley has girl days and boy days (sometimes it's not even days but hours), but Riley never talks about what pronouns should be used for Riley (and this is showing in my review because I can only use Riley's name and it makes for fucked up sentences). I think it's incredible that the author managed to write a whole book without using pronouns for the MC (well it's written in first person obviously), but I would have still liked to see that conversation happen within the book. In any case everything written in here is important and (personally) useful for my research in case I ever want to write a genderfluid character myself (and I feel like I understand what my genderfluid mutuals go through much better now).

The book wasn't only informative though, it followed an actual plot that was certainly typical of the YA genre but well done, but most of all it was a very character-driven story.

It showed Riley as a flawed human being like we all are, and one of the things I liked the best was the hypocrisy that Riley shows when trying to categorize others, the same way they try to categorize Riley (meaning, asking themselves whether Riley is a boy or a girl as soon as they see Riley). That's what Riley does too, and it may not be about gender but about specific categories of people ("jocks" or whatever), without giving them a chance to show who they really are. There really is no solution about this within the book, but that's because there's no IRL solution either. Riley acknowledges that this is how our minds work and we can train them to be more open-minded about many things but the truth is we'll always have our stereotypes and try to put people inside metaphorical boxes. (this is not explicitly said but it's my interpretation of what went on in Riley's brain at some point in the book).

Anyway. This book is important, it's not without its flaws but no book is. It's also a coming out story and the MC has anxiety (Riley is taking meds for it) so there's a lot of rep going on here, so I can't recommend it enough to anyone who wants to read more diverse.
Profile Image for TR.
69 reviews41 followers
March 10, 2016
This book bothered me so much. (Although there was plenty of fascinating information about gender dysphoria and so on.) The plot, you see, doesn't seem to be in touch with reality. It went like this: "Riley, you're so great with words that the one anonymous blog post you wrote has gotten you dozens of followers already even though your blog has no publicity."

"Riley, the owners of an enormously famous website somehow found your 'blog' after two or three posts and it was such an EARTH-SHATTERINGLY good resource (which they could def judge objectively after you've been writing it for less than a week or whatever) that they listed it on their website in such a way that it now has literally thousands of followers (not thousands of views, mind you, but thousands of *followers*)."

"Riley, the owner of said enormously famous website is totally someone you're likely to meet in your friendly neighborhood support group, and the first time you speak out loud at this group the person will instantly recognize you as the writer of your now-totally-famous blog because your writing style and speaking style are totes identical and you couldn't possibly be just quoting a super-famous blog when you use that one metaphor, NO, because who would ever feel that this blog's words accurately describe what they're going through even though that was the WHOLE POINT of your blog getting famous."

"Riley, you wouldn't mind deciding to give a speech in front of thousands of people with a day's notice, would you? I thought not. No need to actually start preparing in advance or anything. People like you, who are super-brilliant writers for no reason and have no performing experience at all, NEVER get stage fright and freeze up, let alone being unable to think of anything to say (when you scrawl down your thoughts the night before) or improvise a graceful and fluent delivery."

As an internet marketing writer with performing and teaching experience, I cringed my way through this excuse for a plot. Sure, most of the things that happened would be possible in isolation or if they had some plausible explanation. For example, it's possible for a blog post to go viral without really expecting it (because, hey, that kind of thing is hard to predict) and so on, but just because this random high schooler is a good writer (which, let's be honest, can happen without a ton of writing experience, although it's unlikely) doesn't mean they're necessarily a competent speaker. And just because someone is gender-fluid doesn't mean they're perfect!! What in the world? Riley has ALL THE SKILLZ for no good reason and nobody seems to even realize that that's weird.
Profile Image for coslyons.
226 reviews14 followers
December 22, 2017
So if I had to guess, I would say that this author is cis. The only people who write stories where the plot is the (queer) main character having no conflict but angsting about their queerness are authors who aren’t queer. (Or aren’t the same kind of queer as their characters. Write what you know y’all, and don’t borrow those experiences for personal gain)

It’s a book by cis people for cis people.

I’m annoyed by the scene when Riley goes to the Q and they don’t introduce themselves with names and pronouns. Literally every queer group I’ve ever been to has asked that, and I live in Texas for fucks sake. In Cali, they’d 100% do it.
ALSO, this author has obviously never heard of they/them or xe/xem or literally anything other than saying “he or she”

I can’t finish this book and don’t really want to. If I want stories about nonbinary people, I’m going to read books by people who actually know what they’re talking about instead of people who combed google and copy/pasted definitions they found on someone’s tumblr.
Profile Image for Sibel Gandy.
968 reviews57 followers
November 24, 2020
Bilinen, sık işlenen bir konu üzerine kitap ama yazar çok güzel anlatıyor. Sıkmıyor sizi kurgu ve anlatım, akıp gidiyor kitap. Akışkan cinsiyet tanımını ilk defa duydum bu kitapta.
Homofobik insanların bu kitabı okumalarını isterdim.

Yazar teşekkür bölümünde J.K. Rowling'e teşekkür etmiş. Ama alttaki Yhn notunda 'Bu kitap 2016 yılında basıldığında JKR henüz malum beyanlarda bulunmamıştı diye yazıyor. JKR ne beyanında bulunmuştu ? Merak ettim bilgilendirecek biri var mı ?
Profile Image for Kat (Lost in Neverland).
445 reviews711 followers
May 31, 2016

As someone who identifies as genderfluid, I'm glad to read a book like this. I'm glad there's a YA book about this identity and that the reader is never actually told what gender Riley was born as. Riley is Riley, a human being, sometimes dressing 'like a guy' and sometimes dressing 'like a girl' but mostly somewhere in between.

However, I did have some issues.

The parody of Tumblr in the form of 'Bloglr' was cringe-worthy, and I honestly didn't want to read further because of it. I don't care about Tumblr, but being someone who is on it, it made me wince any time it was mentioned or as Riley become 'Bloglr famous' in a matter of days (an impossible feat, based on what they posted). It made the majority of the story really cheesy, but I guess it's an accurate representation of how a lot of LGBT individuals come out, by having a profile on a social media where they can feel safe. Seeing it in a book format is just a bit uncomfortable, to say the least.

I feel like Riley was very lucky in that they were born with an extremely gender-neutral name. Another character, who later came out as transgender, also had a very gender-neutral name; it only bothered me a little, as most transgender/genderqueer people are not lucky enough to be born with a gender-neutral name.

Maybe it was just me, but Riley seemed to overreact about a lot of things. They nearly freak out the first time they walk into school and a girl refers to them as 'it', or people asking 'is that a boy or a girl?'
As someone who dresses fairly androgynously sometimes, things like that don't bother me in the slightest. Hell, I even think it's funny. Riley thought it was the end of the world, but I don't think most genderfluid/genderqueer people think that as an issue. If you're transgender, yes, because being perceived as a specific gender is important to them.
As a genderfluid person, being perceived as a specific gender is not important to me. Sometimes I'll dress outlandishly feminine, and other days I'll be extremely masculine. Other days I'll be somewhere in the middle, in which my goal is for people to wonder about my gender. It's part of who I am and when people are confused, it's not a big deal. But that may just be me. I can't make that assumption for other genderfluid people.

Riley is also quite young (16), so maybe they haven't developed that 'fuck it' attitude.

Overall it's a short, quick read, and I'm very happy more books like this are starting to become mainstream. When I was 14/15, just starting to read YA books, I never had books like this, so I'm glad the younger readers will have these more diverse books to grow up with and stumble across, maybe discovering things about their own identity earlier on.

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