I read this book in January and absolutely LOVE it. It touches on such an important topic about being gender-fluid and is such an emotional read! I can not recommend this enough to anyone and everyone. It is the first book I’ve read about being gender-fluid and I definitely feel like I understand the topic of it better now and some of the emotions that someone who is gender-fluid may go through.Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
Published by HarperCollins on February 2nd 2016
Genres: Adolescence, Bullying, LGBT, Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, Social Issues, Social Themes, Young Adult
Source: ARC from Publisher
A sharply honest and moving debut perfect for fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Ask the Passengers.Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. But Riley isn't exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in über-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley's 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. And 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.From debut author Jeff Garvin comes a powerful and uplifting portrait of a modern teen struggling with high school, relationships, and what it means to be a person.
The Inspiration for Riley in Symptoms of Being Human
Writers and Their Characters
To a certain extent, every character a writer creates comes from within that writer. Salinger was part Holden Caulfield. George Lucas is part Darth Vader. Matt Groening is part Homer Simpson. And, to that end, I am part Riley Cavanaugh.
Now, I’ll get this out of the way right at the start: I am not gender fluid. I am cisgender, meaning that my birth-assigned gender happens to align with my gender identity. This fluke of genetics has afforded me immense privilege, which I mostly took for granted until I researched and wrote Symptoms of Being Human. But this post isn’t about how Riley and I are different. It’s about how we’re the same. It’s about the parts of Riley that came from inside me.
My first two years in high school were not fun. I got harassed for being gay (which, ironically, I’m not.) I had uncomfortable moments in the locker room. I lost fights. One kid used to prick me with a needle when I passed him in the hall. To make things worse, I was small, but I had a big mouth. I could win a battle of wits with just about anyone on campus—but when my opponent lost patience, he usually resorted to a more physical form of combat at which I was not so great. So I learned to keep my mouth shut and express myself through journal entries, song lyrics, and short stories. In these forms, I was able to say all the things I wanted to say but couldn’t to the bullies and the haters and the misinformed homophobes. In fact, I even recorded a song about it when I was the front man of my touring rock band, 7k. You may recognize a character name in the lyrics.
Which leads me nicely to the second point of inspiration:
When I was a teenager, music (along with books and role playing games) was my savior. Oingo Boingo, R.E.M., They Might Be Giants, Nirvana…the list goes on and on. I went to high school in the age of mix tapes: they were my most powerful weapon against anxiety and isolation. That’s probably why I imbued Riley with a love of music, particularly 70s punk rock—which was before my time, but seemed right for Riley’s sensibilities. Also, vinyl has made a comeback, and I wanted the reader to experience the tactile element that records add to the listening process which digital music consumption lacks. On the other hand, thank goodness for digital music technology, because now I can share Riley’s mix tape with you:
I always considered it cheating when novelists wrote main characters who were also writers (even though Stephen King does it in two of my favorite novels, THE SHINING and IT. But he can get with away with that.)
And yet, I found myself writing about someone who writes. I was excited by the idea of a teenaged blogger because blogging didn’t exist when I was a teenager; I used an old green journal and the electric typewriter at my mom’s office to crank out ideas (which would never be seen by another human being.) But now, any of us can open a Tumblr account, write a post, and send it out to a nearly infinite pool of potential readers. That seemed (and still seems) like intensely fertile soil for a story about someone who has a lot to say and a lot to hide.
Riley’s voice came naturally to me—Riley says all the things I always wanted to say but couldn’t for fear of retaliation. So I suppose Riley’s voice as a blogger was inspired by my own unexpressed anger. It felt good to cut loose in blog form, unedited and unscripted. Many of my original first-draft rants—including Riley’s opening blog post, “The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?” remain intact in the finished novel.
Inspiration Is All Around
Characters, dialogue, visual descriptions—most of that comes from within, from experience and sense memory. But sometimes it pays to look outside yourself for story ideas. The seed for Symptoms of Being Human came from a local newspaper article about a transgender student who was suing the school district for the right to use the locker room that aligned with their gender identity rather than their birth-assigned gender. I couldn’t stop thinking about that student and the struggle they must have faced every day at school. The gender identity stuff was new to me, foreign at first; but the world Riley inhabits is only too familiar. It’s populated with bits and pieces of people and places I’ve experienced—and others I hope to experience one day.
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Good luck ♥