Symptoms of Being Human

Symptoms of Being Human

Book - 2016
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"A gender-fluid teenager who struggles with identity creates a blog on the topic that goes viral, and faces ridicule at the hands of fellow students"-- Provided by publisher.
Some days Riley Cavanaugh identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. But Riley isn't exactly out yet: between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in über-conservative Orange County, the pressure is building. On the advice of a therapist Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it's really like to be a gender fluid teenager. But when the blog goes viral, Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created-- or stand up, come out, and risk everything.
Publisher: New York : Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, [2016]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780062382863
Call Number: F GARVIN J
Characteristics: 335 pages ; 22 cm


From Library Staff

Riley, the child of a Congressman, secretly blogs about being gender fluid.

Riley starts a gender identity blog that goes viral. Riley’s father, a politician is in a heated reelection campaign, and it has Riley wanting to keep the blog on the DL. Riley doesn’t want anyone at the new school to know about it, but starts to get some threats, some that might be close to home... Read More »

List - Teen Picks - Pride!
SFPL_Teen Jun 16, 2016


Riley, the child of a Congressman, sometimes identifies as a boy, other times as a girl. Interacting with peers is difficult and so Riley starts an anonymous blog to talk about what it's really like to be gender fluid. When someone discovers Riley's true identity, Riley must decide whether to wal... Read More »

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Riley Cavanaugh is gender fluid. Some days Riley feels like a girl, sometimes like a boy, sometimes like neither. When Riley switches from private school to public school, the confusion only grows. Riley has to learn to deal with misunderstanding peers and the crippling anxiety that comes along with their ridicule. Not knowing what else to do, Riley hesitantly follows a therapist's advice involving starting an anonymous online blog in order to cope. Riley is surprised, however, when the blog goes viral. Riley finally feels a sense of belonging in the online community, and as the number of followers grow, so does Riley's self acceptance. Unfortunately, Riley's blog attracts some negative attention, too. Riley begins to receive threatening messages. The sender of the messages seems to know Riley, and says that if the blog is not shut down, Riley will be outed. So much for the blog being therapeutic. This book explores a perspective that I myself am not familiar with, but the author explores the subject in the best possible way. This book discusses the very painful topic of verbal and physical violence against those who are different by putting the reader in the narrator's shoes. I would recommend this amazing book to anyone interested in using a book to get to know people who are unlike them (even if these people only exist within the confines of the novel), all while being immersed in writing that is both entertaining and eloquent. On a scale of 1-5, I would rate this book a 5.
Milla, grade 7, Yorba Linda Teen Book Bloggers

Nov 13, 2019

It was enjoyable in the sense that Riley, the main character, was relatable and funny. However, Riley seems pretty arrogant and thinks [insert pronouns] are the greatest. Nobody can tell what gender Riley is. When they assume Riley is a girl or a boy, Riley acts as if they are harassing Riley. But when a person calls Riley “it”, Riley full on flips out! The text says, “I haven’t been here five minutes, and the harassment has already started.” Throughout the book, Riley is constantly calling others idiots for the smallest of reasons! When people assume Riley’s gender, Riley starts acting like they’re a monster. But then, Riley assumes somebody else’s gender and gets all defensive!

Sep 16, 2019

An excellent depiction of both the experience of being nonbinary trans and the experience of having anxiety. The character Riley was extremely enjoyable to read and I was very impressed with the author's decision to keep their gender assignment at birth out of the book completely (I think I speak for more than a few enbies when I say we certainly wish our gender assignment at birth could be omitted from our lives). Because it's perfectly irrelevant what gender Riley was assigned at birth (a fact many cis people don't seem to be able to understand), the omittance of any potential details–calling what they wore when out with their father a "campaign costume", for example–was an appreciated reinforcement for anyone obsessed with finding out what gender Riley "really" was. I felt it had a positive but realistic message for young queer people. I would enjoy reading more by this author.

Feb 23, 2019

It's like a combination between the books Being Emily and The Gospel According to Larry. Also reminded me of the movie "Boys Don't Cry."

Riley has the same problem trans people do: Riley likes things that are labeled as being for a certain gender, and thinks that means something about its own gender/sex. Whereas trans people like things of the opposite sex and think that makes them the opposite gender, Riley likes things of both genders, and thinks that makes it genderfluid. It's NORMAL to like things that are for both sexes. It's only CONFORMING TO GENDER ROLES that makes boys like only boy things and girls like only girl things.

Riley has a problem with being called 'it', but probably dislikes 'she' and 'he' too, because that's slapping a gender onto it that it may not feel is accurate at that particular moment. 'It' is truer to the gender fluid identity. Riley never says what pronouns it prefers, so how are we supposed to know?

It was annoying how often characters were popping pills, like the book was an advertisement for drug companies. But I guess the story is just a reflection of modern life: humans think they can't function without drugs. Maybe all this drug use is why so many kids are being born LGBT?

Like Being Emily, this book seems amateurly written; there are several instances where there isn't proper spacing between words. The narrator, Riley, is very convincingly a millennial teenager. It's hard to believe that the book was written by the old guy that it claims to be written by. An example is the realistic Internet conversation:
Anonymous person says: "your a fag"
Riley acts all high and mighty by pointing out that the person didn't use "you're," which is completely beside the point. Riley also calls them homophobic at the same time.

This part is unrealistic: Riley writes a couple entries on a blog, and suddenly becomes famous over it as if his website is the only LGBT site on the Internet. Characters treat Riley like it is so good at writing, "has a way with words," but they seemed pretty ordinary and simple to me.

Also unrealistic: Riley calls its CA hometown near LA the most "binary place in the known universe" (p. 30). That's funny since CA is one of the most liberal states in America. Just an example of the millennial mentality: they think they're suffering sooo much, and no one has it worse than them!

Riley acts all traumatized and harassed just after being called 'it.' It's interesting to compare modern books like this to older books about teens or kids, who have much worse lives than this. Today's kids think they have it sooo bad when they bring their problems onto themselves. They should be grateful they have two loving parents, enough food to eat, and a middle class roof over their head. Not everybody has all those privileges. Older books about kids/teens didn't have narrators full of such self-pity over such small things. After Riley comes out to the parents, they are about 90% accepting, but even that is not good enough for Riley. S/he wants to slap the mom and yell at the dad. Of course it's terrible for a person to hit/kill/tease someone for being LGBT, but people these days act like that kind of abuse is equivalent to someone simply having the opinion that what Riley's going through might just be a phase. It has become taboo to even *question* the validity of LGBTs, or to suspect that they're lying. Being skeptical is not the same as hating, but the LGBTs treat it that way; they want to call "Homophobe!" toward everyone unless they get 100% acceptance and belief in all their claims, as if an LGBT can never be confused, ignorant, lie, or pretend. LGBTs are HUMAN like everyone else, and HUMANS are capable of all those things. They're symptoms of being human!

Feb 05, 2019

This book is clearly ABOUT trans people rather than FOR us. All but one of the many, many trans characters have something awful happen to them as a direct result of their identities, up to and including sexual assault. This very much feels like trans people in this book are written as a sideshow, people whose suffering exists for drama and is being put on display for cis people’s entertainment. Garvin evokes pity, not empathy.

EDIT: After taking a few hours to calm down, I realize that there are many aspects of this book that other trans people, especially young people, might find validating and relatable. As someone who just wanted to read about someone like myself, I found the messages of Riley being hurt and hated and scared without being able to meaningfully fight back or be supported for most of the book painful and enraging. I honestly felt like trans people in the book didn't have interests or goals that weren't directly related to their transness. Riley's crush on Bec felt like the only thing Riley did/had that wasn't largely or entirely motivated/affected by their existence as a trans person. Everything about being trans felt like it was nothing but a negative influence on lives and experiences, a curse. It was like trans people couldn't be happy without paying a toll, proving they had suffered for their identities. Yes, I and every other trans person I know has had bad experiences, both internally from dysphoria and externally from transphobes and so on, but the whole point of advocacy is so that it doesn't have to be that way for others. Stop playing transness for drama and start letting us be people with a full range of interests and motivations. Being trans informs our lives, but it isn't everything we are, and suffering isn't everything it means to be trans. Let me see myself in a book without having to see myself terrified, depressed, and sexually assaulted.

Aug 24, 2018

This book goes on my list of "things I wish I'd had when I was a kid." A YA novel that adults can definitely enjoy and learn from. I fell in love with Riley, the main character, from page one. One of the best books I've read in a long time.

Jul 11, 2018

Symptoms of Being Human was a great read. I really enjoyed how it put the reader in the shoes of a gender fluid teenager. Since I don't identify as such, it was a really eye-opening experience. I found the choice of not including any pronouns for Riley interesting, and out of the few books I've read about non-cisgender people, I've never seen it done. Whether or not you are gender fluid, I strongly recommend this book.

Sep 21, 2017

A 2018-2019 Missouri Gateway Readers Award preliminary nominee (grades 9-12).

Riley's life is complicated. Riley just started at a new school after the school year had already begun. Riley's father is running for reelection to the House of Representatives. Oh, and Riley is gender fluid, which means that on any given day Riley might feel more like a boy or a girl, and Riley is not out. On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts a blog, and the blog goes viral and gets more attention than Riley wanted.

I devoured this book, but there were a few things I didn't love about it. I felt like the author veered a little too close to afterschool special territory sometimes. I would advise against the audiobook, although I looked it up on Audible, and I appear to be in the minority.

Jun 03, 2017

What an excellent read! I learned so much. At first, I thought it was a little cheeky -- especially the whole I've got an anonymous blog and it has my deepest darkest secrets and it's suddenly popular and it gets revealed. That basic plot line was a struggle for me. HOWEVER, that said, I fell in love with the characters, Riley, Solo, Bev the whole lot of them. It was dynamic and interesting and honest. Also, I instantly liked it more when the book took a serious turn. It earned so much more respect from me when that happened and I was able to let the cheeky plot line issues go in light of that turn and that challenge presented to the characters and the storyline.

Aside from Magnus Chase and The Hammer of Thor, I have never read about a gender fluid character and, like I said, I learned a lot and feel more educated for having read this book.

Mar 28, 2017

I've read this before and I'm checking it out so I can read it again. As a genderfluid teen, this book is not only an enjoyable story but it's also relatable.

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Nov 23, 2020

poolsarecool24 thinks this title is suitable for 11 years and over

Nov 13, 2019

blue_monkey_3281 thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over

Feb 23, 2019

bell5133 thinks this title is suitable for 10 years and over

Sep 21, 2017

booknrrd thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over

BostonPL_JordanD Mar 03, 2016

BostonPL_JordanD thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over


Add Notices
Sep 21, 2019

Other: On-page physical/sexual assault motivated by transphobia; off-page suicide.


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