Book Review – ‘Symptoms of Being Human’ by Jeff Garvin

Living in the grey.

Symptoms of Being Human Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, LGBT

No. of pages: 335

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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, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.

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This was a difficult book to read. Not because of its writing style or plot, but because of its content. Bullying is a big thing for me. I don’t like it and it triggers strong reactions in me. I experienced many of the challenges our protagonist Riley faced, and other challenges he faced in this story are completely alien to me. But the bullying and assault thing… I just wanted to grab a taser, jump into the world of ‘Symptoms of Being Human’ and zap all of those horrifically behaved teens. Such a satisfying image in my mind of those bullies twitching on the ground and wetting themselves *rubs my hands together in evil glee* How human beings can treat one another at times is simply unbelievable.

This novel deals with some amazing issues around identity and orientation. Even themes of gender roles. I loved the philosophical discussion that ran throughout the course of the story. At times my head hurt for Riley and the struggles he faces. ‘Symptoms of Being Human’ has a great deal of information for any reader who relates to being in the grey parts of the gender spectrum, or whomever wants to learn more about the concept. It really was an eye opener. But I think that this aspect was part of the story’s drawback. Some of the narrative felt forced or guided by the hand of the author to illustrate an important aspect of being gender fluid. The novel gives full exposure to the gender expression dial, and as such, loses a touch of realism.

As a former high school teacher and someone involved with the LGBTQIA+ community; having spent years at university studying psychology and using those tools in the workplace to help youth, the situations and topics in ‘Symptoms of Being Human’ are invaluable, but at times felt like tools to bring light to a perspective or issue. So it’s got me juxtaposed between applauding Jeff Garvin approaching this subject matter, and wincing at how some parts of the story don’t feel authentic to the narrative.

I also didn’t get that emotional punch I was waiting for towards the end. Something about the conclusion felt somewhat… clinical rather than passionate.

Symptoms of Being Human Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Riley’s arc over discovering who he is and coming out against adversity makes for an interesting read. I especially enjoyed how he made new ride-or-die friends in Solo and Bec. Their trio of friendship really drives this story.

I also appreciated the roles Riley’s parents play, as well as that of Riley’s therapist. They all added support and safety for Riley to begin this journey of self-discovery that we don’t usually get to see in YA. Though I think the trend is starting to change as older opinions fall out of favour to be replaced by inclusive (woke) attitudes.

I can’t say I got any surprises from this read. I predicted the storyline within the first five pages, but the beauty of ‘Symptoms of Being Human’ comes not from a derisive plot, but from the themes and content. It ‘opens up a conversation.’

Jeff has some great wit in the narrative, and I found myself wishing for more. I also was hoping for more angst. Though he can really build the tension like nobody’s business, seriously, I felt my muscles coil up and they did not release until I finished the book. I don’t think I’ve experienced a read quite like this. So top notch in tension with his writing style, but a tad dry; I feel a bit more humour would have livened it up more. But who knows – that may have been intentional to highlight the seriousness of the themes posed in ‘Symptoms of Being Human.’

Definitely something I’d happily recommend, I’m glad to have had the experience.

Overall feeling: I feel like and intellectual now.

Symptoms of Being Human Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Symptoms of Being Human Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Ida’ by Alison Evans

‘Sliding Doors’ meets Blake Crouch’s ‘Dark Matter’ buy YA with diverse characters.

Ida Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Science Fiction, LGBT

No. of pages: 246

From Goodreads:

How do people decide on a path, and find the drive to pursue what they want?

Ida struggles more than other young people to work this out. She can shift between parallel universes, allowing her to follow alternative paths.

One day Ida sees a shadowy, see-through doppelganger of herself on the train. She starts to wonder if she’s actually in control of her ability, and whether there are effects far beyond what she’s considered.

How can she know, anyway, whether one universe is ultimately better than another? And what if the continual shifting causes her to lose what is most important to her, just as she’s discovering what that is, and she can never find her way back?

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The main plotline of ‘Ida’ is extraordinary. I love a good multiverse theory in my science fiction. The biggest drawback, however was the narrative. There are many characters/situations introduced that are not resolved: either in a way that they are meant to be left open, or something to give the story more gravitas. It left me feeling unsatisfied upon completion of the novel.

But what ‘Ida‘ has going for it, apart from its concept, is the diversity of characters and the depiction of the multiple universes – how one small decision can dramatically (or minutely) change your life. It is a great theme, but is never really explored to the fullest extent. I feel like the narrative was a stream of consciousness playing with the concept of the multiverse, but ignored the science and the implications. I really needed something to ground it in the narrative. The constant jumping around into different states did not help either. I was disorientating… which would have been fine if it served a purpose for the story, but ultimately, went nowhere like many of the plot points.

What ‘Ida‘ does is open the mind up to a great many possibilities. Starts a conversation for this universe. Almost like it is the pilot episode of a television series, or the start of anthology. Other versions of yourself with their own motivations, gaining the ability to switch between realities, working against you. Finding a near perfect version of your life. The promise of becoming an agent for a mysterious organisation policing those with the ability to travel time and space… all the seeds are planted, but many fail to get explored other than a cursory mention.

Ida Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

The crux of ‘Ida‘ is about her journey to fill the missing void in her life by switching realities, instead of becoming the change she wants to see. That is itself, pretty poetic, but is lost amongst a jumbled narrative. It’s such a shame for a novel with such strong themes, fantastic science fiction concepts, and wonderfully diverse characters (though they need to be explored and developed more) that I didn’t get my wish fulfilment. However, this is Alison Evans first published novel, and given the potential and strength of her ideas, I can imagine amazing stories yet to come with experience.

I absolutely adored that this was set in Melbourne, Australia. A place I like to call home. There really isn’t enough Aussie representation in mainstream YA fiction on the international stage, and I can see Evans becoming a breakout author real soon.

I have already purchased another standalone ‘Highway Bodies‘ – a zombie tale, so we’ll see how that story impact me in a future review soon.

All in all, ‘Ida’ was not a bad debut, but there are so many more novels out there that have executed this concept much better. I’d recommend it for the character study, not as a science fiction novel.

Overall feeling: whaa-whaa

Ida Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Ida Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

#bookquotes

#BQ Freakboy Authors Note by Casey Carlisle

Starting on my first novel told completely in verse – it is so totally out of my comfort zone but am glad for the experience so far. This Author’s Note (from ‘Freakboy’) at the beginning grabbed me – with the current debates on glbtqia+ rights, transgender issues at the forefront and the concept of gender being deconstructed in a social setting (and clashing beliefs with religions,) I’m kinda interested to see where this book will go and what questions it will raise…

What was the last book that you read that challenged mainstream perception?

#bookquotes

#BQ Left Hand of Darkness by Casey Carlisle

I thought I’d post the top 5 quotes from the novels that are the most memorable in the coming month – ones that have stood the test of time and really made me think.

‘The Left Hand of Darkness’ challenged my thinking about gender and gender roles when I first discovered it in my schools library at 13 years old. I think it planted the seed of  feminist attitudes in regards to equality and deconstructing gender as a social construct.

What books have stuck with you through time. How have they influenced you attitudes?

Book Review – ‘Becoming Nicole : The Transformation of an American Family’ by Amy Ellis Nutt

If you love Dreamer/ Nia Nal played by Nicole Maines from ‘Supergirl’ – this is where it all began!

Becoming Nicole Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Non Fiction, GLBT

No. of pages: 279

From Goodreads:

The inspiring true story of a transgender girl, her identical twin brother, and an ordinary American family’s extraordinary journey to understand, nurture, and celebrate the uniqueness in us all, from the Pulitzer Prize–winning science reporter for The Washington Post

When Wayne and Kelly Maines adopted identical twin boys, they thought their lives were complete. But it wasn’t long before they noticed a marked difference between Jonas and his brother, Wyatt. Jonas preferred sports and trucks and many of the things little boys were “supposed” to like; but Wyatt liked princess dolls and dress-up and playing Little Mermaid. By the time the twins were toddlers, confusion over Wyatt’s insistence that he was female began to tear the family apart. In the years that followed, the Maineses came to question their long-held views on gender and identity, to accept and embrace Wyatt’s transition to Nicole, and to undergo an emotionally wrenching transformation of their own that would change all their lives forever.

Becoming Nicole chronicles a journey that could have destroyed a family but instead brought it closer together. It’s the story of a mother whose instincts told her that her child needed love and acceptance, not ostracism and disapproval; of a Republican, Air Force veteran father who overcame his deepest fears to become a vocal advocate for trans rights; of a loving brother who bravely stuck up for his twin sister; and of a town forced to confront its prejudices, a school compelled to rewrite its rules, and a courageous community of transgender activists determined to make their voices heard. Ultimately, Becoming Nicole is the story of an extraordinary girl who fought for the right to be herself.

Granted wide-ranging access to personal diaries, home videos, clinical journals, legal documents, medical records, and the Maineses themselves, Amy Ellis Nutt spent almost four years reporting this immersive account of an American family confronting an issue that is at the center of today’s cultural debate. Becoming Nicole will resonate with anyone who’s ever raised a child, felt at odds with society’s conventions and norms, or had to embrace life when it plays out unexpectedly. It’s a story of standing up for your beliefs and yourself—and it will inspire all of us to do the same.

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I first bought this book solely on the recommendation of another book reviewer, and the fact that I enjoy diverse reads – and in this case a transgender protagonist.

Going into ‘Becoming Nicole’ without any prior knowledge, I was expecting something akin to ‘If I was Your Girl,’ but instead found I was reading a non-fiction account of a real person, compiled by journalist Amy Ellis Nutt.

To be honest the writing style and narrative was fairly stale, and resonated with hindsight and an older cis-gendered author’s perspective. Even though this is a story about triumph for transgender awareness and education, it missed the nuances had this been an ‘own voices’ book. I found the first half slightly frustrating and offensive. But as the novel encompasses a large time span, you can see the narrative change as the author herself gets more education and awareness of LGBT issues, and ultimately grows in her language, political correctness, and entrenched behaviour.

Becoming Nicole Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

I think the best thing about ‘Becoming Nicole’ is that it is a marvellous account of history regarding transgender rights. And as a resource. It has scattered facts of a trangendered experience from the age of 2 to adulthood. From both first person and third person viewpoints. It shows how this issue is dealt with by the individual, the family, and the community at large. The legal struggles faced by a transgender person. Slap in the middle of the national transgender bathroom debate, it brought to light a lot of things I would have never of thought of. It shows how backward people, legislation, and government can be; but also how forward thinking in the same regard.

While I am not a fan of the writing, I will say that this is an important book in regards to the fight for equal rights and acceptance that transgendered youth face. It showed just how much of a sheltered life I have lived and had me questioning: would I have the courage to put myself out there publicly like Nicole and her family to fight against discrimination and bullying. I’d like to say I would in principle. But after reading the difficulty and sacrifices the Maineses made, that thought scares the crap out of me. But the end result seemed to justify the hardship. But real life doesn’t always have a happy ending.

Becoming Nicole Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleThe biggest win for ‘Becoming Nicole’ was the overwhelming show of support for transgender rights and issues, how society and culture are evolving… and for the undying determination and positive fighting spirit of the Maines family. I’m extremely jealous of their relationship. I wish I had parents still by my side who had the insight and intelligence to see the real me. Nicole had an amazing, safe and secure homelife to give her a place of strength to draw from.

There are accounts of scientific research, social definitions, and legal terms littered throughout this tome which help the reader form a language to discuss the topic that I’ve found invaluable. There are times I’ve heard friends say something offhand that is politically incorrect or offensive but have remained quiet because I did not know what to say back with information to support why it’s not kosher. ‘Becoming Nicole’ has given me tools to just that.

This is a great book for people struggling to understand transgender issues, especially parents, but because of the writing style, a younger demographic may be put off. I think if I had known this was a journalism piece before purchasing I would not have added it to my cart, but after reading it I’m glad for the education, perspective, and proud to add it to my library.

On a side note, Nicole as a child was determined to become an actress. To see her playing Nia Nal on ‘Supergirl’ today is such a strong and resounding affirmation for the trans community and a poke in the eye to the antagonists of her story.

Overall feeling – An eye-opening account of discrimination against a minority (and identity)

Becoming Nicole Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Becoming Nicole Book Review Pic 05 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Noteworthy’ by Riley Redgate

Drag of a different note…

Noteworthy Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 404

From Goodreads:

A cappella just got a makeover.

Jordan Sun is embarking on her junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts, hopeful that this will be her time: the year she finally gets cast in the school musical. But when her low Alto 2 voice gets her shut out for the third straight year—threatening her future at Kensington-Blaine and jeopardizing her college applications—she’s forced to consider nontraditional options.

In Jordan’s case, really nontraditional. A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshiped…revered…all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.

Jordan finds herself enmeshed in a precarious juggling act: making friends, alienating friends, crushing on a guy, crushing on a girl, and navigating decades-old rivalries. With her secret growing heavier every day, Jordan pushes beyond gender norms to confront what it means to be a girl (and a guy) in a male-dominated society, and—most importantly—what it means to be herself.

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 This was a fun book to read. Once I picked it up, I could not put it down until I reached the last page.

For the most part I enjoyed protagonist Jordan, I felt she was a fun and adventurous. I also liked how she thought about trespassing on other minority group’s territory; I.e. transgender men, gay men, and feeling like an impostor and essentially wondering if the act of disguising herself as a guy was itself was discrimination. Not as gender expression, but for a chance to join a singing troop. It can certainly be viewed that way, but in another light completely harmless. It’s all about perspective.

I enjoyed how you didn’t get a sense this had a love story in it, but I knew Jordan was going to meet a man from reading the blurb, and it was fun trying to sleuth out which person it would be. I like that is wasn’t clear until the near of the novel, because different people’s reactions played out in realistic and organic ways.

I was horrified about a certain elevator scene – I get the point of gender roles being reversed and it not being made such a big deal of – but in the aftermath (and reveal) I wondered if her fellow Sharpshooter Isaac who was in the elevator with her and listened to her drunken ramblings, then went around exposing Jordan, how nothing was brought up about that altercation. It didn’t play to bolster Isaac’s character at all.

This is so full of drama and angst I was glued to the page.

I liked the social commentary on gender, gender roles, gender identity, and sexuality. It is such a big jumbled mix and really hammers home that we are all simply human – in all different shades.

Noteworthy Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

The boys of Raven (The Sharpshooters) each had their own distinct personality, and really added colour and complexity to the world of Kensington-Blaine’s College Campus (and a great example of fantastic writing and character development.)

I’m not a big fan of poetry or song lyrics in novels – they lose their context and meaning in this medium, and I ended up skimming past the lyrics to get back into the narrative. But it’s a personal preference, some readers may enjoy the cadence. I have to admit, I learnt a lot about music and a capella just from the language used and descriptions of the group trying to pull a number together for a performance. So intricate – it really helped paint a picture in my head of how they actually sounded: which is a phenomenal task creating an imaginative aural sound from a sentence written on a page.

I think the ending was oversimplified (maybe a little trite,) but to be fair, if it wasn’t executed in this manner the book would have dragged out another couple of hundred pages. It was a cute tale. Tones of ‘A Mid-Summer Nights Dream,’ ‘Milly Willy,’ and ‘She’s the Man…’ playing with gender roles can be fun. But with such a heavy subject matter like identity and gender roles, ‘Noteworthy’ was wrapped up too quickly and too nicely. I found myself wanting a more resounding conclusion. But what a fantastic writing style. I remember the first few sentences and how expressive they were in setting a great tone for the novel.

It is predictable in that it wouldn’t be a story without Jordan getting found out – so that part was easily foreseen: but the things Jordan went through was waaay more out of the box than I had guessed. I’d expected some hijinks, but this was visceral and poignant. A great social commentary.

Overall feeling: Ay Caramba.

Noteworthy Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Noteworthy Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Another Day’ (#2 Every Day) by David Levithan

Same story – just a switch in perspective.

Another Day (#2 Every Day) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: YA, Contemporary, Romance, Fantasy, LGBT

No. of pages: 327

From Goodreads:

Every day is the same for Rhiannon. She has accepted her life, convinced herself that she deserves her distant, temperamental boyfriend, Justin, even established guidelines by which to live: Don’t be too needy. Avoid upsetting him. Never get your hopes up.

Until the morning everything changes. Justin seems to see her, to want to be with her for the first time, and they share a perfect day—a perfect day Justin doesn’t remember the next morning. Confused, depressed, and desperate for another day as great as that one, Rhiannon starts questioning everything. Then, one day, a stranger tells her that the Justin she spent that day with, the one who made her feel like a real person…wasn’t Justin at all.

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While I revelled in Levithan’s great writing – there wasn’t much else to this novel after reading ‘Every Day,’Another Day’ a companion novel recounting the events from the debut of this series told from Rhiannon’s perspective only added tiny glimpses of new information to the storyline. It did not, however introduce new plot points, new characters or add something new to the ending.

I found myself skimming over the dialogue as it is exactly the same as that from ‘Every Day.’ I was really hoping Levithan was going to do something new, enrich the tale of A and Rhiannon, but it was all predictable, re-hashed and flat.

Another Day (#2 Every Day) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

I was still able to consume it in a day, love Levithan’s writing style, the themes of identity, gender, and humanity that were explored; but really, this felt like when you re-watch a movie with the Actor/Producer comments option on… it’s all the same, but just a little bit of extra padding. And it can either bore you and tarnish that first experience, or allow you to relive the splendour of your first time reading.

I am looking forward to ‘Someday’ the third book in the series (which I now have in my possession;) there were so many elements that were set up and not resolved, and I am anxious to see where it all leads. What is the mythology behind A’s condition? Are there others like A out there? How do they live/function in society? Is there the possibility of A remaining in one body? Do A and Rhiannon have a chance at a future together? Will we see Nathan Daldry play a part in this new instalment? What new aspects of identity and the human spirit will ‘Someday’ explore…. so many questions. So there is a lot to look forward to.

I’d only recommend ‘Another Day’ to die-hard fans of ‘Every Day,’ and maybe don’t marathon them, as it gets very repetitive. Otherwise, read the debut, and skip the second book and jump straight into ‘Someday’ you’ll probably enjoy the story much more (and won’t miss anything.) Or if you want a refresher on ‘Every Day’ before jumping into ‘Someday,’ then this could be a great way to do that.

Overall feeling: Argh! Not what I was expecting.

Another Day (#2 Every Day) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Another Day (#2 Every Day) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.