Saturday, June 11, 2016

GENDER-FLUID CHARACTER?? YAYYY | Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin (NO SPOILERS)

22692740Title: Symptoms of Being Human
Author: Jeff Garvin
Pages: 352
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Published: 2 February 2016
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.21
Book Rating: 3 stars
Cover Rating: 5 stars
Synopsis: 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: Puck 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 pressuremedia 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.

For those of you who don't know: I wrote a second review of this as well. You can read that here.


I'm in LOVE with this cover. It's simple, pleasing to the eye, and symbolic.

I love covers with that simple, eye-catching symbol. What does it symbolize? Well, I interpret it as meaning androgyny. You could never tell what someone's gender is based on that haircut. I love it.

Also, that phrase, boy or girl? yes. I love. I mean, I would have said no, but whatever.

Activity While Reading

Comments made by me while reading this book, and their corresponding page numbers.


"I'm not gender-fluid (I'm agender), but this is incredibly relatable. I keep saying "same" every time anything happens. Out loud... That's not weird." (18)
"'Tranny' that's the direction this is going." (21)
"'Bloglr'???? XDXDXDXD So...the obvious equivalent for Tumblr. How much laughing is too much laughing?" (27)
"And sometimes your 'gender dial' doesn't exist. ;)" (28)
"First Thought: Since when is Tumblr (or its obvious equivalent I guess) homophobic? Has this author been on Tumblr?!?!? Second Thought: That was the best comeback ever. I fucking love Riley." (43)
"I'm just going to bookmark this with an info card about a pride parade. It seems appropriate." (53)
"If somebody had to ask whether I was a girl or a boy, I would cry tears of happiness. Though I guess that would get annoying." (73)h

"'Defense mechanism.' I thought that said "define," and I was so confused until I realized that's really not what it says." (77)
"I'm not even sure whether I find Riley or Bec more attractive." (85)
"I'd just like to point out that making a funny/creative remark is way better than ignoring them. Make the bullies look stupid, my friends." (87)
"Riley is vegan. Repeat: RILEY IS VEGAN. I've never read a book with a vegan character before THIS IS SO EXCITING." (91)
"'I let out a breath I didn't realize I'd been holding.' Fuck why." (108)
"I've never met a therapist that didn't make me feel stupid.... Where are they keeping these good therapists?????" (110)
"AND NOW WE JUST EAT IN SILENCE (TØP) Why is that the first thing that came to my head?"  (129)
"'That androgynous chick-dude.' I would SO not be offended by that. Just saying." (130)
"Soo basically it's probably not going to be him that sent those messages. That would be too easy." (169)
"WHOVIANS!!! YAS" (176)
"Ummmm does Riley (or the author..) not realize that they/them pronouns are a thing? You don't have to say 'he or she'.....offense taken over here." (193)
"'Gender stuff.' Yup. XD" (196)
"I would have NEVER guessed from that, but sure. It's not like there are HUNDREDS of gender fluid people all over the Internet saying the exact same shit." (200)
"This book is doing a frustratingly good job of not revealing Riley's biological sex." (206)
"Who uses queer as an insult anymore? Like, yeah, I'm queer. Andddddddddd what's your point?" (217)
"The similes in this thing weird." (221)
***KIND OF A SPOILER: "'Does that mean . . . you're gay?' Ah yes, supportive yet clueless parents. Why do I find this so hilarious?" (252) ****
"I am SO CLOSE to tears right now." (266)
"You've never seen Doctor Who? WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE?" (272)
"1. You shouldn't have started on season 7 (of Doctor Who) what the hell. 2. The ninth season wasn't released on disc/bluray until AFTER this book came out. Does this book take place in the future??" (276)
"YAY BOW TIES!!!" (310)
"Of all things....why a lei? Am I not understanding something, or is that REALLY random???" (325)

1. I feel like I actually understand gender fluid people better now.
2. I'm unsure as to whether I find Riley or Bec (Riley's friend/girlfriend person) more attractive.
4. I have no idea whether or not "gender(-)fluid" is supposed to have a hyphen in it, but there isn't one in this book, so I guess I'll go with that?

Actual Book Reviewy Stuff

Things I liked:

Plot: I feel like the plot was okay. I saw several other reviews saying things like "Where was the plot?" But, personally, I could point out the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution pretty easily (Note: Good job pointing out that you know what a plot is, self. You use those English classes.). Though I do admit the falling action was a long part of the book (70 pages is kinda long), and it definitely felt like a long time. Anyway, it was pretty good in my opinion... But I think most of the value of this book is its explanation of gender fluidity. I think I understand it better than I did before.

Characters: I really liked ALL of the characters. Riley was hilarious (this book was pretty funny in general) and relatable. They also had anxiety attacks, and I don't see too many characters who get those. I also get them, so it was pretty cool to see a character who does also. I also loved Bec. I spent half the book trying to figure out which one of those two I was most attracted to... There's also Solo. I have a soft spot for him because he is one of my fellow Whovians! YAYYYYYY! Fangirling aside, the characters were really believable and real. Even the antagonists (well, one) had a little redemption with the "why they're mean" thing.

Writing: Usually, I'm a lover of flowery language, and this book has none of that, but I think it worked better like that. If I didn't know the author was an adult, I would have totally believed that this was written by a teenager. A smart teenager with great grammar, but still. There wasn't as much cursing as I would have liked (I'm really into cursing), but that isn't too big of a deal. Basically, it was like if I'd written it, but with less cursing.

Romance: To avoid spoilers, I'll just say I ship it. But it took an agonizingly long time.

Diversity: Obviously, there's a gender-fluid main character. That's pretty magical if I do say so myself. There are quite a few other transgender/non-binary people mentioned in this book as well. There's also Riley's friend, Solo, who's basically described as being huge and "not white" (A specific race wasn't specified, I don't think. Or maybe I'm oblivious, which is very possible.). Riley is white, but no one else's race is mentioned. Other stuff concerning diversity wasn't really touched on. Disabilities, religions, etc.

Things I Didn't Like:

Obviously, I gave this book 3 stars (that's a pretty good rating!), so there wasn't too much I didn't like, but there was a few key things (and another that's probably unimportant, but I wanted to mention it anyway) with which I had an issue.
  • Riley's name (along with a couple other names) is gender neutral. In theory this is very interesting because the reader has no clues as to what the assigned (biological) sex the main character is, but I think it completely undermines the struggle that trans/non-binary people 
  • have with their given names. Same thing with pronouns. That's a part of dysphoria for me and many other trans/non-binary individuals. It's not just about our physical bodies, it's about how other people perceive us. Personally, I think I would have identified with Riley much better if that kind of thing was taken into account.
  • Adding on to the last thing, Riley's assigned sex is completely unknown, and therefore body dysphoria (as I experience it) wasn't really a thing. It was mostly how they dressed (neutral, feminine, masculine, etc.) that was the reason for their dysphoria. The problem is that most of the people I know experience chest dysphoria about their boobs or lack thereof, and same thing with bottom dysphoria. Obviously, not everyone experiences dysphoria that way, but the fact that it wasn't even discussed was kind of upsetting. Basically, the idea of not knowing the assigned sex of the main character was an interesting approach, but it ending up missing some of the key aspects of being transgender.
  • The complete absence of gender neutral pronouns really bothered me. I use they/them/their pronouns, and I felt that they were not acknowledged at all. Riley instead called people "he or she." I realize that some people think that it's "grammatically incorrect", but come one, look at this definition (if you're on mobile you can't really see it. Sorry. That's what Google is for.):

  • Completely Unimportant Reason: It is said in the book that Riley watches the seventh season of Doctor Who. The seventh season. What kind of SICK, UNRIGHTEOUS person starts watching on the seventh season. And Solo brought them the seventh season!! You're just going to skip over loads and loads of great episodes? YOU'RE GOING TO SKIP OVER TENNANT!?!? (I hate Eccleston.) What the hell???? Also, an inaccuracy here: It is said that after Riley watches the seventh season, Solo brings over the next two. Problem is, the ninth season of Doctor Who didn't come out on disc until April of this year, and this book came out in February. What I'm trying to say is, this author obviously has no knowledge of Doctor Who, and his research has failed him. Or maybe he's just a bad fan. Message to author: Don't mess with non-binary Whovians.


Yes! I think this book has some serious educational value, and really explains being gender fluid quite well (I mean, I think so, I'm not actually gender fluid). It has it's issues, but it contains one of the only gender fluid characters I've come across, and it's worth it. There's also several "laugh out loud" moments.


  1. I'm glad you enjoyed this one! I'm so glad a book (that's actually gaining quite a lot of popularity) is being published with a gender-fluid protagonist. Representation is so important, and it's really important to educate people! I've been other reviews only refer to Riley as Riley too - not using any gender neutral pronouns. I did think it was a bit odd (using they totally makes sense!!) and I think it could have taught people to use they/them pronouns when they don't know someone's gender. This still sounds like a really interesting book, and I still want to pick it up soon!

    Denise | The Bibliolater
    PS: How DARE you not like 9?! he's clearly the best doctor?! what??! but seriously, starting on s7 is appalling too (but skipping 9? he's <33 )

    1. I really suggest picking it up! Even if it wasn't my favorite, I still really want to support books with diverse protagonists. (The better they do, the more there'll be!) Though I also wished the book would have gone into gender neutral pronouns better. Some discussion on the lesser known ones (zie/zir, xe, xir, etc.) would have been nice as well. (I forgot to mention that..)

      And I've gotten that reaction from people SO MANY times. I genuinely never liked him, that's why I haven't seen most of he first season even though I would call Doctor Who one of my favorite shows.. XD I just don't find him as entertaining as 10 and 11. I even like 12 better than him! (So many controversial opinions!) Thanks for the comment! :)