I got this book because I liked the title. It was not at all what I was expecting (well, I was expecting it to be a finding yourself story, which it was, so I guess that’s a lie. The delivery was not what I expected). This book was the first book I ever read with the gender-fluid main character. To spare you the time of Googling what that means, a gender-fluid person doesn’t identify as a fixed-gender. Therefore one day they can feel like a female, and the next hour like a male and then a couple minutes later…like nothing. That’s what happens to our protagonist, Riley. The book never mentions what gender Riley was at birth (I deduced it to “male” but I won’t mention as to why because that would be a spoiler.) In order not to insult, I won’t be reviewing using pronouns for this post.
What makes Riley special is that Riley is the child of a Senator who is trying to get re-elected. Therefore there is a lot of pressure on Riley to be the model child, and apparently, it’s not cool for Republicans to be associated with anything relating to the LGBT community. I don’t buy it because the setting is in California, and regardless of your political affiliation, California is a liberal state and for the most part, accepting (or at least, tolerant).
Riley’s therapist suggested to Riley to start an anonymous blog to help communicate the gender-identity situation. Riley recently transferred to a public school after leaving a religious school after having an anxiety attack due to the realization that (wow, not using pronouns has proven to be extremely difficult) there is more to Riley’s gender than just genitalia. This is all explained within the first few chapters so it’s not spoiling anything. Unsurprisingly, Riley is terrified of not being accepted in this new school. Riley dresses up gender-neutral in order not to expose one gender over the other, that way when there’s a shift, it won’t be weird to the public.
The way Riley explains gender-fluid is as a dial. In one end you have male, on the other end you have female. When you wake up, the dial points in one direction over the other. And it can change as the day and circumstances changes. I noticed that when he was hanging around guys, he felt more like a male. But when she was hanging around with girls, she felt more female (pronouns are appropriate here). I also noticed that when she was liking the idea of being a romantic interest, she felt more female. I guess her inner flirt is a queen.
Riley is paranoid that either someone will figure out that she/he is gender-fluid, the child of a Senator or the author of the blog discussing gender-fluid. We spent most of the time in his/her thoughts.
If you are into YA novels, this one fits the criteria and I’d recommend it. If you don’t have an open mind of the different associations in the LGBTQ community, this is probably not for you. You’d be rolling your eyes everytime Riley talks about being misunderstood.
In-Depth Review (Contains Spoilers)
In order not to spoil the dynamic of Riley’s new found friend and enemies, I decided to write them in this section instead of the spoiler free review.
Bec was the best possible love interest Jeff Garvin could have created. She was patient, sympathetic and comforting. Not to mention a tease that was able to produce a swarm of butterflies. When she said her sister had a bad reaction to some medication and they couldn’t resuscitate her, I first thought of suicide. I know, my brain sucks. I’m used to reading tragic stories. So when she confessed that her transexual sibling killed herself, I was not surprised. It sucked, don’t get me wrong. Loss, especially through suicide, is hard to deal. I understand how Riley thought that Bec just saw her sister and that’s why Bec hung around. I get the low self-esteem “no one will like me unless they want to use me” mentality. So when it all worked out, I was happy! Also, “don’t be stupid. I don’t have a type. I have standards” is an evolved form of love for a teenager.
Solo is the reason I think Riley was born a male. When Riley’s father saw Solo at the hospital, he was…concerned. Riley has mentioned that his/her father thinks he’s gay. And his/her father would get excited with the idea of Riley handing around with a girl and going on dates. But the point of the story is that gender is irrelevant. I really liked Solo. I was sad in those chapters were Riley thought he was a dick. Solo is an understanding guy who loves Star Wars. He stood up for Riley and got him/her out of his/her head. He was honest and persistent.
I wish we knew more about Riley’s mom. The story was really dad centered with hints of mom here and there. Makes sense, the senators get more attention than the senator’s wife’s.
I was disappointed by the bullying. Not that I wanted Riley to get hurt or anything, but it just seemed unoriginal. Which might have been the point? To create a story where your worst enemy is literally yourself. Where the bullies might be bad but they are no worse to you than others. They didn’t seem too focused on making Riley’s life a living hell up until Riley decided to break Vicker’s arm. Not that I’m saying Riley should not have fended for him/herself. I’m simply stating a point. It was typical high school bullying. Typical namecalling and taunts. Nothing deliberately aimed to imply hated. It just felt that way to Riley. Because he/she couldn’t accept his/herself, she/he assumed the rest of the world would act that way. Then again….if he/she were “normal”, the same thoughts would probably occur and he/she would find another reason to find him/herself unlikeable. Maybe zits or crooked teeth. I do not miss my teenage years at all!
Unfortunately, I didn’t find that many good quotes in this book. Most books that I’ve read so far regard teenagers who are forced into a serious situation that requires them to grow up too soon and that is where all the introspective insights that I love reading about come from. With Riley’s case, he/she was arrested at the age of 6 when he/she had to decide what toy to get. He/she saw his/her dad looking disapproving at his/her choice of either a blue power ranger and a Bratz doll. That little incident was registered as “I did something bad. What I like is bad. I have to please my parents” and that is what started the hiding process. So in other words, Riley has a 6-year-old coping mechanism while being thrown in the zoo that is high school. No wonder his/her anxiety is off the charts! As cliche as it sounds…you need love to grow, at least emotionally. He/she didn’t have that. Not until Bec and Solo. And the LGBTQ support group (which I think they should have their own reality TV show because they were just amazing people, even if they were fictional). Then he/she started feeling more confident. More transparent. More visible. Like he/she belonged.
I did find two good quotes though:
“‘So, first, I want you to know that everybody experiences some level of anxiety. It’s a normal human response to stress. It’s like your body’s smoke alarm. If there’s a fire, you want to know so you can put it out or call 9-1-1, right?’
I shrug. ‘ I guess. But it feels like my alarm is going off all the time.’
Doctor Ann nods. ‘Some people’s systems are more sensitive than others’. For you, Maybe all it takes is burning a piece of toast, and your alarm thinks the house in on fire.'”
Anxiety is a trip (for more quotes about anxiety, read my blog post of Queens of Geek where I posted a good selection).
“‘You always say the best leaders figure out how to turn a bad situation to their advantage. When life gives you gators, you make Gatorade. Remember?'”
That should be a shirt!
(Featured Image taken from: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22692740-symptoms-of-being-human)