New Young Adult Fiction: Symptoms of Being Human – Jeff Garvin

This is one of those books that caught my attention thanks to the grassroots support of booksellers. It’s the tale of a gender-fluid teen and floor booksellers wrote with the same kind of support they gave to the award-winning Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. And it points out that younger readers are clamoring for quality, issue-forward narratives about sexuality and identity.

This debut chronicles the fortunes of Riley, a 16-year-old gender fluid teen who starts an anonymous blog to deal with hostility from classmates and tension at home. When the blog goes viral, a media storm threatens Riley’s anonymity and challenges him to confront what it means to be a complete person. Author Garvin gives our teen protagonist a breezy, sarcastic voice that gives the reader confidence this teen can take on the challenges ahead.

I suspect that most teens feel like the stakes are high when it comes to issues of sexuality and self. (Why else would the intersection of romance and melodrama be such a perennially hot publishing area?) It’s heartening to me that the empathy quotient of teens is such that many are eager to understand and embrace difference.

The book arrives with two starred advance reviews and great word of mouth.

Gender-fluid Riley wakes up each morning in a different place on the male-female continuum. To be safe, Riley strives for neutrality, but that doesn’t necessarily feel right. As junior year starts, Riley makes an unlikely friend, develops a crush, and—encouraged by a therapist acquired after years of anxiety and secrecy led to a suicide attempt—starts a blog about being gender-fluid. Despite bullying that escalates into full-on assault, Riley gains the courage to come out with help from friends, a love interest, and a support group. Readers never learn Riley’s birth-assigned gender, but there’s no question that Riley is a smart, funny, sharp-eyed force. Debut author Garvin clearly wants to teach his readers about gender and gender fluidity, but the knowledge he imparts buoys this rewarding story, never weighing it down.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“One of the first YA books to deal with the complex issue of gender fluidity…Riley’s emotional life and personal growth shed welcome light on a hitherto obscure subject.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Vibrantly imagined…a welcome mirror for gender-fluid teens.”
Kirkus Reviews

 “While I understand what gender fluidity means, it’s hard to know how to react, or how to make an offhand comment about gender without being unintentionally offensive. This book helps. Riley explains being gender-fluid as being a dial, not a switch….It’s dangerous to come out LGBTQ today. It puts you at risk of abuse by family, friends and the community, as well as making you a target for bullying or worse by people on the street. But if you don’t come out, you risk your own sanity….This is an important read for teens (or adults) who want to understand what it means to be LGBTQ. Very well done.”
— Kate Schreffler, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington, KY

Symptoms of Being Human (9780062382863) by Jeff Garvin. $17.99 hardcover. 2/2/16 on sale.

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