07 May 2015

None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like 2015 has been the best year yet for diversity in literature. So many great books have come out exploring lives that never got noticed before. In NONE OF THE ABOVE, I.W. Gregorio shines a light on intersex (aka differences in sexual development).

The only other book I've read that dealt with intersex was GOLDEN BOY, which I read last year. (And the only other one I've heard of, MIDDLESEX, I haven't gotten my hands on yet.) GOLDEN BOY wasn't technically YA, though two of the narrators were teenagers, so it felt that way sometimes. NONE OF THE ABOVE, on the other hand, is 100% YA, and focuses quite intently on the effect that one diagnosis has on its young narrator.

I found myself thinking about the similarities, and differences, between the two books quite a lot as I read NONE OF THE ABOVE, and I'd encourage anyone who has read NONE OF THE ABOVE to go read GOLDEN BOY as well.

In NONE OF THE ABOVE, Kristin Lattimer is a more-or-less typical teenager. Perhaps she's a little atypical, in fact: she excels at track, she's voted homecoming queen, she's popular without being a stereotypical "mean girl." But after she and her boyfriend attempt—painfully—to have sex for the first time, she goes to see her doctor and finds out she has Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. She has internal testicles and has a Y chromosome. In other words, she could biologically be considered "male," even though she has always identified as female.

And when her diagnosis gets out—to her entire high school—well, you can imagine what happens.

Author I.W. Gregorio is a practicing surgeon, but NONE OF THE ABOVE is anything but clinical. There is a lot of information presented, and it's presented well, but it never feels like a teaching moment. Kristin digests the information at the same time as the reader does.

NONE OF THE ABOVE felt, in many ways, like the flip side of GOLDEN BOY. While Max in GOLDEN BOY already knew his diagnosis, and was, in fact, desperately trying to keep it private, Kristin never has the chance for her diagnosis to remain secret. She has to face the prejudice and bigotry and misunderstanding that accompany being intersex. It showed a lot of ugliness, but a lot of heart, too: not everyone was blind and bigoted.

It struck me that both GOLDEN BOY and NONE OF THE ABOVE started with sex. I don't know exactly why it should surprise me—sex is at the heart of the questions of identity that both books explore—but still, it struck me. In one particular scene, Kristin's therapist explains gender identity and sexuality so beautifully, by drawing a little diagram. Who you love is different from Who you are which is different from How your body was born. This is something that everyone—intersex or no—needs to understand.

The other parallel theme that really stuck out to me was the question of surgery. In NONE OF THE ABOVE, Kristin is faced with the choice of whether or not to have surgery to align her anatomy with her identity. It's a monumental choice to be faced with. But what is so important is that Kristin is allowed to make the choice herself. That's something that, historically, has been denied to many children with intersex traits. Indeed, in GOLDEN BOY, Max's parents fought about the issue constantly.

While GOLDEN BOY was harrowing and intense and haunting, NONE OF THE ABOVE was, at its core, optimistic and hopeful. Not every story needs to be as dark as Max's was. It was refreshing to see Kristin come to terms with her intersex diagnosis in a decidedly gentler way.

That's not to say Kristin didn't face adversity, but her support system was strong, and it was gratifying to see that. Her father, in particular, was excellent. Not every story has to be about the end of the world. That's not everyone's truth. Sometimes, with friends and family and a lot of love, we can pull through. It was beautiful to see Kristin come to realize that, to become comfortable in her own skin, and to learn how to love herself again.

I really enjoyed NONE OF THE ABOVE. I hope it will continue to open up discussion—and acceptance—of intersex. It's worth noting that I.W. Gregorio is a founding member of We Need Diverse Books, and she certainly puts her money where her mouth is.