May 10th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2017-2018 | December | High School | 2017-2018 High School

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin. Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins, 2016

Riley feels feminine some days, masculine others, but never feels safe outwardly expressing this shifting identity so dresses in gender-neutral clothing. As a result, Riley experiences dysphoria almost daily. On the first day at a new high school, Riley is called “it” before even getting in the door. But Riley gradually becomes friends with Bec and Solo. At the suggestion of a therapist, whom Riley has been seeing since a suicide attempt the year before, Riley has also started writing. Blogging under the pseudonym Alix, Riley is a source of online support for other teens. Riley’s parents know nothing about the blog or Riley’s shifting gender identity. It’s Bec who takes Riley to a transgender support group, one Bec attends because her sister, Gabi, who committed suicide, was transgender. It’s there Riley learns the term “gender fluid,”  and feels relief  even without being ready to say “this is who I am.” A horrifying sexual assault eventually fuels Riley’s determination to speak out. Riley’s voice is compelling and Riley, Bec, and Solo are vivid characters with believable strengths and quirks and uncertainties in a novel that also succeeds because the emotional arc feels authentic, and ultimately cathartic. © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Discuss the theme of secrets. How do secrets bind and tear different characters apart?
  2. How does the author address the subject of gender identification? Why do you think the author chose to approach gender in this way?
  3. How does this book show the difference between sexual identity and gender identity?
  4. Did you prefer the magical realism of When the Moon Was Ours or the realistic portrayal in Symptoms of Being Human?




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