Book Talk: Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Book Talk: Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff GarvinSymptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
Published by Balzer & Bray on February 2, 2016
Genres: Contemporary YA
Format: ARC
Source: For Review

I received this book for review consideration from the publisher. This in no way swayed my opinion of the book. Pinky swear!




Want an “at a glance” look at what I thought? Check out my Review On A Post-It or my “Final Thought”



Riley identifies as gender fluid — some days Riley identifies as a boy and other days as a girl — but Riley isn’t exactly out or open up being gender fluid. The comments and looks have already started at Riley’s new school plus Riley’s conservative congressman of a father is up for reelection so things have been pretty intense. On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to have an outlet to let loose some of those feelings. In addition to writing about school, crushes and family, Riley writes raw posts about what it feels like to be gender fluid and the blog ends up going viral bringing with it an incredible response…. and an anonymous commenter who threatens to share Riley’s identity.

a2Riley is an important character I’m glad to see in YA!


What a unique POV in this novel that I really appreciated for the fact that 1) it might speak to a teen/any person who hasn’t been able to find a label that fits them and 2) it would educate others. Prior to the last year or two, I wouldn’t have had any clue what gender fluid meant. But thanks to Twitter and the YA community I’ve learned a lot outside of what I thought was just straight/gay/lesbian/bi/trans. I’m thankful to learn and to be challenged.

I think that was the most interesting thing about my experience reading this and it drew me back to my reading of Every Day of David Levithan. When I went to talk about the book I remember having a hard time talking about A because I couldn’t label A as he or she because A inhabited other bodies and wasn’t necessarily male or female. Now Every Day and Symptoms of Being Human are totally different but I just found it interesting my NEED, even though I know better, to want to label in a certain way.

Going into Symptoms of Being Human I knew what gender fluid meant generally and I was very interested to get a better look and to understand what it means even more. And the interesting thing? Even in understanding and accepting…I STILL kept feeling like I wanted to KNOW if Riley was in fact assigned male or female at birth. I wanted to assign a pronoun. Because that has been the norm for almost my entire life — being able to label someone clearly as boy or girl. As I was reading I just felt really thankful for the chance to keep working on it and I was happy that Jeff Garvin never ever stated one way or another in the book if Riley was born male or female — and I’ll be honest I kept looking for hints. Riley was gender fluid and that’s all I really needed to know.

I really enjoyed Riley explore the label of gender fluid and start to be open about it with the blog and with close friends. I felt like in seeing Riley’s perspective on how gender was fluid definitely helped me to understand and empathize even more. Particularly on the days when Riley suppressing the need to fully express boy or girl on a particular day when one felt stronger than the other. I loved that Riley had the blog to explore and express because it so raw and honest.

My heart BROKE for Riley with some of the bullying and harassment that went on at school and the comments Riley had to endure — things like “is that a boy or a girl??” said snidely by people Riley has never even met. Especially a thing that happened nearer to the end.  I felt so tense for Riley when Riley realizes that the blog was no longer anonymous and that someone at school was reading and blackmailing Riley over it (who I thought was fairly easy to figure out). I also totally understood how all the pressure from the blog must have felt like when the blog got popular. I think when anyone starts to read your writing there is a sense of responsibility in some way, especially when a lot of eyes are on you, and I could see why Riley felt so conflicted about continuing on and giving advice when it was something so important.

I loooved Bec and Solo so much along with a bunch of the characters who go to the group with them!! Plus the romance as super cute!


factors+ plot, emotions conveyed, writing, that I was challenged/learned even more
–  no specific criticisms…just didn’t have that next level feel for me to get a “love it”

Should you read it? I think it’s worth the read for sure!

Should you buy it or borrow it? I enjoyed it, but because I personally probably wouldn’t reread it/it wasn’t a favorite, it’s hard to say “buy it” because that’s typically my requirement for a buy it recommendation. However, I think if you buy it there is a good opportunity to be able to donate it to a library/school/LGBTQIA shelter for teens after you read it if you are person like me who doesn’t tend to keep a lot of read books on your shelves. It’s an important book so I say if you aren’t sure…buy it and do something good with it after!

a5readers looking for genderfluid MCs, readers who are open to a perspective that they might not have ever read from before, contemporary YA fans, people who are curious what genderfluid means

a8Symptoms of being Human is a really powerful and important novel. I really enjoyed watching Riley explore what being genderfluid means and to become more open about that as an identity. I loved watching Riley be Riley. I loved exploring all the things that seem to be the universal teen experience — having a crush, parental relationships, rude people and making friends to name a few — through the perspective of a genderfluid teen. It reminds you how vastly different our experiences/identities may be  yet there are so many commonalities all the same. It’s a book about being a genderfluid teen but it’s just as much about just being a teen in a society that wants to label, categorize and put you in a nice, tidy box and I think most can identify with that.



a8j* Have you read this one? What did you think? Similar or different from me? I would LOVE to hear regardless!
*If you haven’t read it, does it feel like something you’d be into?



The Perpetual Page-Turner

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About Jamie

Jamie is a 32 year old married lady (with a new baby!!) who is in denial that she's actually that old to be a married lady and a mom. When she's not reading you can find her doing Pilates followed by eating ice cream, belting out Hamilton (loud and offkey) and having adventures with her husband, daughter and rescue dog.


  1. I loved this book a lot! 😀 I loved Riley and I learned so much about what it means to be gender fluid.

  2. I have this book on my list. Maybe I’ll suggest it to my YA book club. It sounds like a very interesting and important read.

  3. I haven’t read this (yet!) but these issues make me really really wish we just abolish gender as a construct and let everybody just be who they are. I get what you mean about wanting clues – gender is the first thing we ever want to know about anybody (like when a baby is born) and it’s honestly just not really important. We put so much weight on it and what it means to be a boy or a girl and it can get very frustrating, even if you *do* strongly identify with the gender you were assigned at birth.

    • YES to all this. Reading this book and my experience of that knee-jerk “wanting to know” just proved that so much to me how much pressure there is about the gender thing. And I hate it when it comes to things like “boy things vs girl things”. It starts young bc the boy I nanny for (he’s 4) told me one time that girls can’t be doctors..they are nurses. Also, girls can’t drive trucks..just boys. Haha we had a nice lesson about how girls can do anything and so can boys.