Auracrazykoko's Reviews > Symptoms of Being Human

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
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did not like it

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.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
February 10, 2018 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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Corvo Thank you for putting all my feelings about this horrible book into words.

message 2: by abby (new) - rated it 1 star

abby lex EXACTLY, hell yeah, i was so fucking mad about the lack of pronouns, especially with Bec, who you could see was uncomfortable with feminine pronouns (coming from a demigirl who picks up on that kind of thing)

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