Symptoms of Being Human – Jeff Garvin | 3.5 Stars | SST Review

Book | Symptoms of Being Human

Genre(s)| Young Adult / Contemporary / Realistic Fiction

Date of Publication| February 2nd, 2016

My Rating | 3.5 Stars




Book(s) – Symptoms of Being Human

Feels– For the problems the LGBTQ+ community goes through.

Tears – None

-I received a free e-ARC of this book from Edelweiss but this did not affect the review in any way-

Hey guys,

Back in October, I had requested Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin as my first ARC from Edelweiss, and amazingly, they approved my request. I read the book early in Feb, right around the time it released (goddamn exams for screwing with my schedules) and now this review is a part of the Sunday Street Team for Symptoms of Being Human.

Here’s the blurb for the book:

The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?

Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. The thing is…Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in uber-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley’s so-called “normal” 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. Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, and a cause to believe in— or stand up, come out, and risk everything.

This is a very good, diverse, representative novel. In fact, this is one of the first 2016 reads that has made me think over things I had assumed to be fact and understand that there are several layers to every person.

SOBH is told through Riley’s perspective – Riley is a high school student and a genderfluid blogger. Riley hasn’t come out to her parents yet, or to anyone other than her therapist. A secret blog is started as a means of expression, which is a huge hit among the LGBTQ+ community. As a character, Riley is fairly complex and kept me interested in the life affairs throughout the novel.


The novel deals with and brings to the forefront a very good representation of genderfluidity. While I’d heard of the term before, this was the first novel I picked up with an LGBTQ+ character as a protagonist, which is also a bildungsroman of sorts. I really enjoyed learning about the several types of gender identities, the way people choose to express their identities and the sheer number of sacrifices they have to make to feel at home with who they are. I have a much better understanding of genderfluidity and how it shapes an individual, much like my own gender identity.

The book is written every well – the words have been carefully chosen and beautifully constructed into sentences. There were some meaningful sentences I really thought over. One important factor of the book is how Garvin does not use any pronouns in the novel for Riley. Even as I write this review, I’m struggling not to use ‘she’ for Riley because of something that caught my attention in the novel, which means writing a full length novel without any gender pronouns, from the protagonist or from outsiders is quite an impressive feat.

Where the writing is concerned, this book is pretty damn good. It manages to convey the emotions Riley feels, the conflict between acceptance and rejection and there are some pretty neat scenes in the book that will open your eyes to the reality of the intolerant world that we live in.


While there are several positives, the book also contains several flaws. The non-use of pronouns, for instance, is definitely impressive, it is also confusing. I did not know which pronoun to employ for Riley and I can’t keep writing the name over and over again, which is very cumbersome to say the least. The use and the dictation of proper pronouns, of ones Riley wanted to be used with respect to (can’t use a pronoun see?) Riley’s identity should’ve been mentioned.

Riley as a character was simply too hard for me to connect to – that was another major problem I faced while reading the novel. I kept wondering why Riley didn’t come out to the parents, because they honestly seemed like nice people to me. And I get that it takes time for people to adjust to the idea, because hell, it took me a while to get a hang of the concept. I found Riley to simply make mountains out of molehills?

I can’t go into deeper detail, because that may giveaway crucial spoilers, but in my opinion, simply being honest with her parents earlier would have done the trick. It would’ve taken time, sure, but every big change does. Genderfluidity is a relatively new concept and it does take time to understand.

Controversially, I also think Riley invited trouble sometimes. I don’t know how to explain this, because this is a deeply personal opinion, but I think Riley behaved like a spoilt brat a lot of time and did judge everyone around as being bigots & as people who won’t ever understand –they weren’t even given the chance.

As for the blog, it was informative as hell, which also made it a bit of an info-dump. As I said earlier, I wanted to read about Riley, to see the character develop – only what I got was a blog that told me exactly how I should view genderfluditiy which I found very hypocritical. I was being asked to accept something without question, and when someone did dare to ask a question, they were given a public sarcastic smack down. To be honest, I had that question myself.


Symptoms of Being Human is a very diverse novel, with bold characters like Bec & Solo, and occasionally Riley too. It educates you about genderfluidity. It is a brilliant representation of the LGBTQ+ community and how badly they can be treated in the society that we live in. If you are into books that kinda shake your world around (but in a good way) and expose you to things you haven’t thought of before, then this is book for you. But if you dislike obstinate characters, then may be try it out before you go all the way.

Until next time,

Nia Carnelio.




4 thoughts on “Symptoms of Being Human – Jeff Garvin | 3.5 Stars | SST Review

  1. Jess I. says:

    Even though 3.5 stars is still good, I’m a bit surprised by the “low” rating! I’ve been hearing non-stop things about this one and every time I look for more books about gender identity, people always rec me this one. I can see where you are coming from about the whole pronoun thing and disconnection. I actually read an excerpt on this on another participant’s blog and I still might give it a try!

    Liked by 1 person

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