Today for Spotlight on Sixteens, I’m reviewing SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN by Jeff Garvin, which releases on February 2!
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.
Visit Jeff Garvin’s website here!
Learn more about The Sweet Sixteens authors and books here!