Single Sundays: The Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Single Sundays: While this blog may be focused on reviewing book series as a whole, we can’t forget about the good ole’ standalone novel! On Sundays, I will review a novel that is considered to be a standalone novel. Here is this week’s offering:

Synopsis for The Symptoms of Being Human (from Goodreads):

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.


Author: Jeff Garvin
Genre: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary, GLBT
Heat Rating: cool
Point of View: First Person, Single
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Source & Format: Public Library–Audiobook


Why I Picked it Up / My Expectations:

This was one of the many must read contemporaries that seemed to be everywhere when it came out. I’m not a big YA contemporary fan but I like diverse stories I wouldn’t normally encounter in my usual reads.

The Concept:

I will be the first admit I don’t know much about what it means to be gender fluid. I’m not even sure if I knew what it was before I read the synopsis for this book. So I was looking forward to learning more and I definitely did. Not only does Riley explain what it means to identify as gender fluid but Riley also does a great job of showing what it means to actively live as a gender fluid teen.

It was quite the change for me to read about this particular story because Riley struggles with not being associated with a single gender whereas in None of the Above, the story I just finished the day before about an intersex teen, Kristin wants nothing more than to be seen as a girl. The contrasts and similarities between the two books would be the subject of a great essay but I’ll just say I had to leave one mindset and dive into another. Both books offer fascinating insights into the perception of gender in society.

The Plot:

I hate being one of those reviewers who constantly compares books to each other but I have to bring up None of the Above one more time. You can read my review of None of the Above here but one of my biggest criticisms of it was the lack of subplot besides the lead’s gender identity crisis. Thankfully, SOBH has a lot more going on than just Riley’s struggle to be “out”.

You have the political aspirations and influence of Riley’s dad’s career; you have Riley’s interest in a particular girl; Riley’s struggles at school; the blog and then the overall pressures of society to conform to a particular gender. Needless to say, this book is always moving forward with one plot aspect or another.

The Characters:

I liked Riley as a lead but I wouldn’t say I loved Riley as much as I have with other characters. I really did feel for Riley, no doubt about that. It’s easy to see why Riley would feel the pressure to hide who Riley really is and that broke my heart.

One of my favourite aspects of this novel is the fact that we don’t know whether or not Riley was born a male or a female. I think it further drives the point that society feels the need to confine people to a label because I will be the first to say I kept waiting to find out what gender Riley’s parents saw Riley as. But at the same time, what does it matter? At the end of the day Riley is a person and who cares if Riley wears a dress one day and a suit the next? It doesn’t change who Riley is as a person and I’m forever grateful that Riley reminded me of that in this book.

The Romance:

I almost wonder if I would have enjoyed this story more without the romance. It didn’t negatively impact the story but I’m not even sure if it added all that much to it either. Yes, it does add a layer to Riley’s development as a character but I think Riley would have reached that level without it.

The Audiobook Experience:

I really enjoyed this as an audiobook. I think I would have missed some of the humour without having it enunciated to me just because I can be dense like that when it comes to writing. But it really pulled a lot of the emotions out of me so bravo!

My Rating: 4/5


If you like books that will make you laugh, cry and just make you re-evaluate how you view the world and others, this is a great one.

Read if You Like: YA contemporary, diverse reads
Avoid if You: dislike contemporary


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