Review: Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

22692740Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Received: Bought
Publication Date: February 2nd, 2016
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Point of View: 1st Person
Recommended Age: 12+
Genres &  Themes: Young Adult, Contemporary, High School, LGBT, Gender Fluidity, Bullying


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.


As always, I’m going to be honest with you: I had never heard of ‘‘gender fluidity’’ before Symptoms of Being Human came along and held my hand through the process of my discovering this psychology.

This book is informative and realistically illustrates what a gender fluid adolescent’s life and thoughts can look like. However, I do hope that not every gender fluid person has to go through everything Riley does, because Riley doesn’t have it easy in school.

It’s hard for Riley to be in the closet around his own family and friends and to constantly be harassed at school, because of the way our protagonist dresses and acts around people. Sometimes Riley feels like a boy, and other times more like a girl.

I have to say this: to me, this is very fascinating.

And to my surprise, I connected with Riley’s character more than I thought I would. I’m not saying I’m gender fluid, or anything of the like, but Riley made me realize how people do expect things when they see you.

I remember this one time – it was the day before the beginning of high school, many years ago – I prepared a girly outfit for my first day, but then the next morning, I was just ‘‘not feeling’’ like wearing pretty and tight clothes, which I would normally wear. I really wanted to just put on some joggings and a large t-shirt… but then I thought: I can’t do that. It would be too much of a contradiction if the next day I decided to wear elegant clothes. People won’t know in what box to place me – the sporty one or the girly-girl type.

As I grew older, I started gaining more confidence and stopped trying to fulfill others’ expectations, but for people like Riley, who constantly feel society’s pressure, it’s harder.

You may have noticed that I didn’t use any pronoun when mentioning Riley. That’s because we never do learn his gender. I do have my theories, but they’re not solid, since the narration will not give you any clues. Sometimes it feels like a guy is telling the story, other times a girl – and that’s okay. I never read a book in which the narrator’s gender is not specified, so it was an interesting reading experience for me.

But I think that if someone who doesn’t have Riley’s charming personality had narrated the story in Riley’s place, I would have been quickly bored. You see, this book IS instructive and eye-opening, but it’s not very entertaining. The author stated in his author’s note page that he knew he needed to write this book when he gave a sample of the story to some acquaintances and they asked him if being gender fluid is something that exists. And it feels that way in the story… I DO feel like this was written for those who have no prior knowledge of gender fluidity or are gender fluid themselves.

And that, too, is okay. You just have to know what you want, before diving into this book. Do you want informative and moving? Because that’s what this book has to offer.

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3 thoughts on “Review: Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

  1. This sounds like it would be a good book for kids (well, young teens) to read I think. Gender fluidity isn’t a new concept for me, but it’s nice to know there’s a book out there like this for those that aren’t aware of it. A pity it wasn’t super entertaining though, but it’s great you got something out of it all the same 🙂


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