Hello and welcome, my lovely people! As I said in my first post, I’m going to upload a book review every Sunday at 5 p.m. This week’s book is Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin. Let’s jump right in!
Riley- Riley is, of course, the main character. Riley is genderfluid, which means that gender identity fluctuates over time- Riley’s gender identity can change every day, or throughout the day. Also, we never discover what gender Riley was assigned at birth, which is a very compelling and intentional choice made by the author. Throughout this review, I will refer to Riley with the pronouns they/them to avoid misgendering.
Riley’s parents- They’re parents. What more can I say, other than that they make mistakes in their parenting, but they love Riley more than anything in the world. Oh, and Riley’s dad is also a Senator running for reelection, so watch out for that to throw a wrench in the mix.
Bec- Riley develops a deep crush on Bec, one of the girls at her school. Bec introduces Riley to the Q, but her story line gets a little bit more emotionally powerful than that.
Solo- Solo is one of my favorite characters. He’s introduced early on as a fat, brown football player. His arc is one of a friend making mistakes and trying to rectify them.
Mike/Michelle, Kanada, Mimi- These three lovely ladies are some of the better-known members of the LGBTQ+ support group, the Q. Mike/Michelle (yes, that is her name) is the founding member of the Q, and plays a huge role in Riley’s path to self-acceptance.
Vickers and Sierra- Basically, the school’s power couple. A popular girl dates the best player on the football team, and they fall into the stereotype of “unsympathetic bullies.” Every story needs a villain, after all.
You can probably read the summary online, but this is my take on the plot.
Riley has just transferred from a private school to a public school. We learn early on that Riley and their dad have different motives for the transfer. Riley’s dad is using the transfer as part of his campaign for reelection. He’s introducing a bill that would reform public schools and wants to show voters that he has a vested interest in that reform. Riley, on the other hand, wants to be able to dress the way they like and not be confined to a singular dress code, which has led to dysphoria and panic attacks in the past.
Riley finds that the new school isn’t much better. With bullies like Vickers and Sierra, the pressure of presenting themself professionally for their dad, and the simple fact that no one knows about their gender identities, Riley still feels that dysphoria and anxiety.
So, on the advice of their therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog under the name Alix, where they post about their struggles and experiences. The blog quickly gains a mass following, and people start going to Riley for advice.
Then, as the senatorial election gets closer, someone sends Riley a message on their blog, threatening to expose them.
This book is filled with relatable characters and a moving plot that is paced perfectly. You won’t get bored.
I bought this book when it was pretty new, when I was wandering around a book store after work. My hardcover copy was $17.99 back when it came out in 2016, but market price runs around $10 for paperback now. I’m sure you could get it for cheaper on eBay.
As for time commitment, I could hardly put it down. It took me a few days to read all 330 pages, but I’ve reread it twice, so I’d say $17.99 is a fair price to pay for a favorite.
In my humble opinion, this book is a solid 4.5 diamonds out of 5. It touches on gender and sexuality issues and presents a relatable protagonist with compelling side characters and a loving family. I’ve read it multiple times, so it’s definitely worth the money.
Also, this is a brand new voice I’ve never seen before. LGBTQ+ characters surface more and more in fiction and literature every day, but this is the first time I’ve seen a genderfluid character. I’m glad that Jeff Garvin chose this as the subject of his debut novel.