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Symptoms of Being Human
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Symptoms of Being Human deals frankly with a gender-fluid teen's high school experience, from cruel taunts and a horrific rape to the difficulty of finding and maintaining close friendships. The novel helps explain what it means to be gender-fluid and sheds light on the everyday challenges non-gender-conforming teens face. There are vicious bullies -- Riley is subjected to sexually explicit verbal abuse and repeated, violent attacks -- but also inspiring upstanders. Mental health issues figure prominently, including anxiety, panic attacks, and suicidal thoughts. But the takeaway message focuses on being true to yourself, taking a stand, and the importance of supporting each other.
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What's the story?
It's hard enough to find where you fit in high school, but Riley has it harder than many: Riley feels like a girl some days, a boy on others, and often somewhere in between. Riley doesn't know how to explain this to family, much less classmates, so most days Riley strives to be neutral. But it doesn't work: Bullies soon target Riley, and new friendships are hamstrung by unasked questions and Riley's uncertainty. Starting an anonymous blog seems a safe outlet for Riley's pent-up feelings, but even that gets painfully complicated when well-intentioned advice to another non-gender-conforming teen becomes a news story. Even worse, someone at school knows Riley's secret, and the pressure may be too much to bear.
Is it any good?
Like its hero, this keenly observed portrait of a gender-fluid teen desperate to live authentically defies easy categorization. It has obvious appeal for LGBTQ teens and allies, but it's also a moving depiction of anxiety anyone can relate to. SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN is a tenderly written and empathetic debut from Jeff Garvin, who remarkably avoids using any gender-specific pronouns in describing Riley and never reveals which gender Riley was assigned at birth.
The general plot line feels stale for this generation -- teen with nonconforming gender identity stays closeted, is sexually attacked, and decides to come out. But getting to know Riley could be a breathtaking experience for gender-fluid teens, who see so little of their reality reflected in mainstream media. And for friends, family, and anyone else trying to better understand gender dysphoria, Garvin writes with heartfelt compassion.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about blogging and the line between private and public. Do you feel like the words or pictures you share online are private or public? How does that perception affect what you choose to share? What privacy precautions do you take?
Do you notice how much gender affects the way you interact with new people? Do you know anyone like Riley?
Riley chooses to engage with some trolls who respond to the blog but ignores others. How do you handle haters and trolls?
- Author: Jeff Garvin
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, High School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Balzer + Bray
- Publication date: February 2, 2016
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 352
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.