Boyfriend Book Review: Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

The Boyfriend Book Review is a recurring column here on What A Nerd Girl Says.  My boyfriend, Daniel (read his bio here), is a reader as well. He suffered from what a lot of male readers suffer from – they only read white men! Well, of course, that didn’t really work with this Nerd Girl and he has been making a journey through my massive YA collection. Now we’ve started this column together, to review books that I’ve most likely already reviewed so that we can get a male perspective on it. We hope you enjoy!


**Please note that we always try to keep reviews spoiler free here but in the case of back-listed books, there is a chance that there could be spoilers**

You can read my original review for Symptoms of Being Human from July 2018.



Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBTQ




Standalone Novel


February 2nd, 2016


Balzer + Bray






Bookshop (Benefiting Your Favorite Indie Bookstores!)



Barnes and Noble 

Book Depository


Google Play

Author’s Website


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.


I first became aware of Jeff Garvin when I was being The Muscle for Sara and one of her author friends. He gave one of the Keynote speeches at Ontario Teen Book Fest. I was so impressed with his words that I bought his first book. I do not have that much experience with contemporary books, much less ones about the area I live in. Symptoms of Being Human is about a Teenage Closeted Genderfluid child of Congressman named Riley. While I have been meaning to read a lot more contemporary books, I am really glad I got the audiobook for this one.

The story takes place in Southern California roughly in the area that I grew up in. Riley is starting at a new public high school after she had a panic attack at one of Riley’s father’s fundraisers. Some mornings Riley feels strongly like a boy and sometimes their internal compass points to feminine, and sometimes they switch from one side to the other in the middle of day and now they are dressed like they were feeling this morning and their clothes don’t fit how they are presenting. Riley lives an incredibly anxious life, at the suggestion of their therapist they start a personal anonymous blog to talk about her feelings.

Symptoms of Being Human was a very informative and compassionate look at what it is like to be a teen whilst struggling with your personal identity. Riley is a flawed character just like all of us, they judge people based on their appearance, they accidentally misgender someone, and they have a temper that spikes when they are having a particularly bad anxiety episode. I loved this book, I loved the audiobook reading of it and I loved the voice that Jeff Garvin gave to Riley. Jeff also manages to get a lot of information about people that are genderfluid and explains it in a way that feels personal. I would really recommend this book to anyone that is struggling with personal identity and in general.


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