Source/Format: ARC provided by Harper Collins Canada (thank you!)
Publication date: April 7, 2015
A groundbreaking story about a teenage girl who discovers she was born intersex . . . and what happens when her secret is revealed to the entire school. Incredibly compelling and sensitively told, None of the Above is a thought-provoking novel that explores what it means to be a boy, a girl, or something in between.
What if everything you knew about yourself changed in an instant?
When Kristin Lattimer is voted homecoming queen, it seems like another piece of her ideal life has fallen into place. She’s a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college and she’s madly in love with her boyfriend. In fact, she’s decided that she’s ready to take things to the next level with him.
But Kristin’s first time isn’t the perfect moment she’s planned–something is very wrong. A visit to the doctor reveals the truth: Kristin is intersex, which means that though she outwardly looks like a girl, she has male chromosomes, not to mention boy “parts.”
Dealing with her body is difficult enough, but when her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school, Kristin’s entire identity is thrown into question. As her world unravels, can she come to terms with her new self?
Very rarely in YA do you come across something that you have never even heard of, much less experienced. None of the Above is one of those books that you will not only sink into and rip through the pages to know more, but also one where you will learn everything with the protagonist.
And that is where the genius of this book lies. Because the term intersex is probably not something that the average teen (or adult) has encountered (or perhaps they have and don’t know it), so when Kristin finds out she’s intersex – specifically she has androgen insensitivity syndrome, meaning that she looks and feels like a girl, but she has male chromosomes and male “parts” – she is just as shell-shocked, frightened and confused as we are. It is impossible not to sympathize and empathize with Kristin in this book because you go through her diagnosis with her.
“…And like your father said, no one needs to be the wiser. You know we’ll love you no matter what. Remember when you were little and your dad always said that he’d love you forever and ever, until the sun fades?”
I nodded again. In the part of me that wasn’t numb, I did know.
Though I wished she hadn’t felt the need to tell me.
Within five pages of opening this book, I was completely hooked. And not just because of the unusual subject matter, but because I.W. Gregorio’s writing is effortlessly fluid and precise, and I immediately felt like I could connect to Kristin – even before her diagnosis.
This is the other thing that really works in this book: Kristin is never treated like a victim. In fact, in high school I probably would have envied or looked up to her. You’ve probably met girls like Kristin – girls who are athletic and popular, but also kind and focused. She’s not perfect. But she is a good person trying to do her best. The fact that she gets everything – from the hot jock boyfriend to becoming Homecoming Queen – you almost think she deserves those things.
And so when she finds out she’s intersex, the blow is huge. Of course it’s life-changing, of course it’s going to change the way she does things (sex is this whole new game, estrogen pills need to be taken), but more than that, it changes the way she looks at herself. And it really challenges her idea of what a woman and a man are. More than that, it challenged my own ideas of gender.
That’s what Dr. Cheng had said, and it’d driven me crazy trying to parse out what it meant. “But what does that mean, to ‘identify’ as a girl? Just because you feel like you’re a girl doesn’t mean that you really are.”
Gretchen cocked her head. “Some people would seriously disagree with you about that. Gender is so totally a social construct.”
“That’s right, you told me, “ I said. “Women’s Studies minor.”
She laughed. “Guilty as charged. It’s all true though. The biggest difference between boys and girls is how people treat them – what color parents think their children should wear, what kind of activities they sign their kids up for in kindergarten.”
I thought about the pink estrogen pills as Gretchen went on. “Screw that gender essentialism bullshit. Men have as much of a right to care about clothes as women. Girls can like sports and cars and guns too. So what does it even matter if you identify as a girl, a boy, or as neither?”
“It matters because we live in the real world,” I said with a heat that surprised me. “I don’t want to be some poster child for a gender-neutral society. I just want to get through high school in one piece, graduate from college, and have a family.”
As a former masters student, I have definitely heard about gender being a social construct (Judith Butler fans, won’t you please stand up?). And in some of the literature I read at that time, I definitely agreed with that argument. But this is the first time I’ve seen gender performativity played out in a person, a character, and a book that is targeted to teens. And I’m so grateful for Gregorio’s concise and brilliant argument for gender as a spectrum. This whole book is something to learn from.
But that’s not the only reason to read it. None of the Above is – above all, a book about a girl who is trying to understand herself in a difficult situation. I would never call this an “intersex book” or a “book about gender.” The book is about Kristin. It’s about her schoolmates and how they treat her after they find out about her diagnosis, and the subsequent bullying. It’s about her depression after her diagnosis. It’s about her relationship with her father and how much that impacts her choices. It’s about discovering other people out there like her, figuring out her friendships, and wanting to reach her dreams of running in college despite the argument that she might not be a “girl” in an athletic department’s eyes.
Even though it’s a quick read, there’s a lot going on in this book, and Gregorio pulls it together with a smoothness that isn’t often seen in debut novels. This book made me feel so many things – I was angry at Kristin’s classmates, I was frustrated that Kristin wouldn’t take bigger steps, I identified with her depression, and I felt hope that she kept on trucking. And I spent a lot of time after reading Googling all of the new terms, trying to learn and grow and allow my ideas of gender to expand.
Complex Friendships: Let’s just say that Kristin’s friends, especially Vee and Faith, are far more than just archetypes. There’s a lot of confusion about “what” Kristin is at the beginning, and Vee and Faith help and hurt in a lot of ways that feel realistic to me.
Book Theme Song:
I’m just a girl,
The Final Word:
There’s a great Sidney Lumet idea that my husband likes to invoke (Lumet was a hugely prolific filmmaker from the 1950s to early aughties), and it’s that you know a picture is working when it feels like everyone involved in the movie is making the same movie. In the wrong hands, I feel like None of the Above could have been melodramatic or worse, inauthentic. But in I.W. Gregorio’s hands, the writing, the plot, the character, the tone – everything works together to elevate Kristin’s story and make this one of the most important and thought-provoking novels I’ve read this year.
Recommended for: teachers/classroom discussions of gender, identity, and differences; teens and adults looking for a quick read that will stay them; people looking for a diverse read, people who need their minds expanded =p
NONE OF THE ABOVE is in stores now. Are you interested in reading it? How much do you know about intersex or other gender syndromes? How important is diversity to you in books? What would you do if you were told you were intersex? Let me know in the comments!