Recommended for Book Club month to Steph by Yash.
From the cover and the back copy I knew what I was in for – and honestly, it serves me right for giving Yash the equally challenging and groundbreaking When Everything Feels Like the Movies (look for her review of that Canadian read later this month!).
For me, None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio is an important book because of the subject matter it covers. I don’t know that there is another teen read that covers intersex as a subject, and if there is, I don’t know that it would handle the mess of questions and assumptions as deftly as Gregorio. That said, I wouldn’t go ahead and say that it is a great book because, to be honest, I had the plot figured out before I cracked the cover. Despite it not necessarily being the best YA contemporary story (in that it is fairly predictable) that I’ve ever read, it was informative and, as far as I can tell, truly authentic. Gregorio is a doctor, and her knowledge really shines as she defines the intersex condition as both a simple physical trait, a genetic disorder that is not uncommon, but as a deeply impactful psychological issue for those who have it in a society with rigid gender identifiers.
The story opens with Kristen, our average teenage girl at the height of her high school career: great grades, athletics scholarship, in with the in crowd and going out with a hot boyfriend – what more could she ask for? It all hits the fan whens he has her first sexual encounter and discovers that she is intersex. Gregorio does not hide from the terminology or the nitty gritty of sex, intersex or gender identities – and for this I commend her. Pretty much immediately Krissy tells people about her “condition” and then everyone knows and they are all awful and she has to deal with it and re-discover her own identity, gender identity and sense of self.
That was when I realized that life was a multiple-choice test with two answers: Male and Female, and I was None Of The Above.
What I did like about Krissy was that she actually sought help, she confided in people – her parents, friends and said help. Too often we get the teen novel driven by the “I can’t tell anyone” plotline/character and that’s just annoying – here Krissy talks to people, she reaches out, she volunteers at a clinic and really learns about loads of medical conditions (and that, really, she isn’t so unlucky…). I suppose what I liked was the overall positive way that Krissy dealt with the situation AND that the whole book didn’t come off as overly didactic. I wasn’t smacked over the head with the moral of the story – in fact the moral of the story was more of an overarching question: what does it mean to be labelled one gender or another? What if your gender were taken away from you? Indeed, there was depth to the complicated gender relations throughout the novel. Lots of insightful questions like: if she has testes, is she still a girl? Is she a boy? Krissy interrogates how differently the genders are treated and defined and this makes the books significantly more readable.
So far my criticism as been that Gregorio’s novel is predictable – of course Krissy is surprised by her diagnosis, then of course she tells the wrong person, of course her boyfriend is a jerk but don’t worry there is another nice boy who will love her for who she is, and of course she eventually comes to terms with herself etc. etc… and the perfect ending was… just too much. BUT, perhaps the predictability isn’t entirely a bad thing? I mean, the plotline in no way hampered my reading experience of the intersex point of view. Actually, Krissy, a normal teenage girl who just happens to also be intersex, is so average a teenage girl that perhaps this is the point. Krissy is a teenage girl. This is a teenage girl story. She is who she identifies as regardless of some diagnoses. In this way, I think Gregorio makes the diagnosis absolutely relatable through Krissy, our average teenager, to the average teenage reader. However, I also think that Gregorio relies just a little too heavily on the contemporary YA novel plotline – I would have liked a twist or two.
I recommend this book for it’s subject matter and for it’s interesting discussions surrounding gender. Don’t expect a stellar plot or any surprising twists but instead a positive (slightly too positive?) point of view tackling a major life change.