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Symptoms of Being Human


Symptoms of Being Human

SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN is Jeff Garvin’s debut novel about a gender-fluid teen and their struggles and survival of one of the cruelest places on Earth: high school. Riley, the child of a congressman (who is running for reelection) who lives in a conservative area of California, is trying their best to cope with identity issues, mental illness and fitting in with everyone else. As a coping strategy, Riley’s therapist suggested that they create an anonymous blog to express their feelings and connect with other teens like them. However, Riley didn’t expect people to listen; and for people to actually enjoy it. When their secret is threatened with exposure to the public, they have to make the decision of walking away from everything they created, or risk everything coming out to the world.

"SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN deserves the highest praise for its messages of finding identity, friendship, love and acceptance."

Going into this novel, I had a feeling that I would make a connection to the themes and topics being presented even though I wasn’t fully educated on gender-fluidity. Garvin’s influential   storytelling filled my brain with knowledge of the topic and my heart with immense joy and gratitude. Although I am not gender-fluid, I have related to Riley’s struggles. I am a member of the LGBT+ community. I have mental illnesses and have to see a therapist and take medication. I have trouble fitting in and use a blog as a way to cope. I loved the way this was portrayed, even if there were some scenes that were a little tough to read through. Riley’s perspective was fresh, original and really showed the symptoms of being a person, not someone who has a perfect high school life.

The best aspects of this novel were Riley’s relationships with Solo, a Star Wars-loving friend, and Bec, a spunky romantic interest. Their dynamic was so fun and healthy to read about. Both are accepting and understanding, as they should be. Bec even took Riley to a youth group for LGBT+ individuals and brought Solo along so they could help Riley! Not only were they accepting, but Riley’s gender-identity was never used as something that defines their relationship. It was mentioned, but it never changed their opinions of Riley. They treated him like a second family. They are what made Riley’s high school experience worth it, which is what my friends do to me. The romance was also very sweet. I live for Riley blushing at almost everything Bec says or does.

I honestly wouldn’t change much about this novel except for minor details. For example, one of Riley’s bullies, Sierra, was mentioned to have family issues; however, they were never fully addressed. It is hinted that her mother is neglectful, but we don’t really know. It was just kind of…there? That’s a really minor detail that I actually forgot about until right now, as I was writing this review.

SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN deserves the highest praise for its messages of finding identity, friendship, love and acceptance. If you are afraid of reading this without knowledge of gender-fluidity, don’t be: it is highly educational and provides insight as to what the protagonist is feeling. I hope Jeff Garvin writes more novel like this in the future, and I hope that other readers connect with this book in some ways or another. It gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside, and I hope that feeling never fades as I look back at this.

Reviewed by Daniella R., Teen Board Member on December 14, 2017

Symptoms of Being Human
by Jeff Garvin