Today’s diversity read is one I had been looking forward to since meeting the author at one of the biannual SCBWI conference LGBTQ meetings a year ago. It doesn’t exactly fall into any of my categories, but boy, is it an essential 2015 diversity read? YES! It should also be noted that I. W, Gregorio is one of the founders of The We Need Diverse Books movement.
Title: None of the Above
Written by: I. W. Gregorio
Published by: Balzer & Bray/Harper Collins, April 28th, 2015
Themes/Topics: feminism, intersex, gender identity, bullying, betrayal, LGBTQIA
Suitable for ages: 14+
Publisher’s ARC in exchange for an unbiased review
Three favorite quotes instead of my usual opening:
You fall for the person, not their chromosomes
At least two of the other teams in our division have already filed complaints with the athletic board, accusing me of cheating and demanding an investigation,” she told me. “I know that probably nothing will come out of it, but I’m sorry to say that we can’t allow you to run until we get things straightened out.
That’s when I realized that life was a multiple-choice test with two answers: Male or Female. And I was None of the Above.
Kristin Lattimer is a well liked successful senior in high school. Though her mom died of cancer a few years before, she lives happily with her caring dad. She is a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college and she’s madly in love with her boyfriend, Sam. After being voted homecoming queen she’s decides to take her relationship with Sam to the next level. Only her first experience of intercourse is excruciatingly painful, so much so that she decides to go and see a gynecologist. The doctor reveals not a cervical problem (like her mom) but the fact that she has internal testes, i.e. Kristin is interest. She looks outwardly female but she has male chromosomes and some internal male parts.
As Kristin starts to deal with this confusing news her diagnoses is leaked to the entire school and the reactions of classmates, her boyfriend and even her coach are extremely painful. New friends, counselors, community service, unexpected old friends all help, but will she be able to come to terms with her new self?
Why I like This Book:
While I kind of wanted Kristin’s to stand up against the assholes in her life more, I felt her journey of discovery and acceptance was truly how I would in reality have reacted. Withdrawal, fear, despair, questioning… all appear natural responses, as well as a realization at the end, that there are many types of interest, and AIS is one of the less complex. The characters are typical seniors in high school and their preoccupations and dialogue feel very authentic. With a topic such as this, being interest, about which adults and teens have almost no knowledge or what they do have is rife with misinformation an/or prejudice, I think the author does a stellar job of educating the reader through natural dialogues the protagonist has with medical professionals, internet research and other intersex individuals, without bombarding the reader with too much information. Despite having already read the two novels I recommend at the end, I felt I grew in my understanding of being interest through reading NONE OF THE ABOVE (love this title, by the way).
There are some of things that really stand out in this novel and they are, a) how unlikeable yet real some of the characters are (Sam, Faith and Vi); b) how the author chooses to use the word ‘hermaphrodite’ used in a negative way, not because she wants the reader to adopt its usage, but because it is often still the word that most people know in the general population. I will myself be using intersex from now on even though the author’s note suggests some in the interest community are reclaiming it much as gays have reclaimed the word queer. Language is very important, and I myself am glad to be more educated after this powerful story; c) paralleling Krstin’s struggle with Darren struggle to accept his gay dad when he was a tween.
As a member of the LGBTQI community, I know we still have a ways to go in breaking through prejudices, which come about so often through fear of the unknown. This book is a tremendously important contribution to YA literature in helping educate and break down people’s fears and showing that there is nothing binary about gender.
While this is a book that examines some of the facts and misnomers about being intersex, it is much more than that. Krissy (and Darren’s) story speaks to teen readers about gender identity struggles and how to face and accept ones problems even when the worse case scenario occurs – the entire high school finds out your secret and your boyfriend not only ditches you but humiliates you. Many teens struggle with identity and body issues, rejection and secrets they want to hide even from their best friends, and Kristen’s process of coming to terms with her differences and accepting herself holds universal truths for all readers.
Remember, this is just one person’s interest story, Kristin’s, but it a powerful and groundbreaking addition to diversity YA literature and I would love to see it on all high school library shelves.
There is a detailed author’s note at the back of the book detailing how Dr. I. W. Gregorio’s inspiration for NONE OF THE ABOVE came from her experience as a fifth-year surgical resident when she met her first interest patient.
She includes some recommended reading including MIDDLESEX by Jeffrey Eugenides and GOLDEN BOY by Abigail Tarttelin, both of which I have read and would highly recommend.
You can read more about being intersex also on the author’s website: http://www.iwgregorio.com
http://interactyouth.org – A youth group for young people with intersex conditions or DSD, sharing their stories with the world.