Review: None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio

I walked up to the edge of the parking lot and watched the cars go by, catching little glimpses of the drivers’ faces. They all stared ahead at the road, everyone in such a rush to get to their destination, barely registering things on the outside before they blew on by. I wondered if they were going on errands, or rushing to hot dates. I wondered what they thought of when they saw me. Did they see a girl? A boy? Could they tell something was wrong?

Since the new year began, I’ve been thinking about reading more LGBTQIA+ books, but I hadn’t thought to consider which books from the spectrum I would pick up. In the back of my mind, I knew what “intersex” meant, from having been taught about it last term in my Gender and Society course, but before then, I had never come across the term nor had I bothered to look it up. Coincidentally, then, I found None of the Above on a Goodreads list for YA contemporaries, and saw it fit to start learning from somewhere more personal than an arbitrary Google search. Here is its summary:

n_aWhat 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?

What None of the Above succeeds in doing, in my opinion, is being educational at the same time as it stresses the subjectivity of dealing with one’s identity as intersex. I liked that Gregario made this about a regular teenager, a girl who had friends and popularity and a boyfriend, who discovered an aspect about herself and learned about it – and in the process, taught me, the reader, about it – while still maintaining the thoughts any teenager would possess given her situation. And not only does this novel succeed in making this of great importance (the battle one faces with oneself alongside other stresses like school and breakups), but it also succeeds in making the solution clear: in Kristin’s case, communicating with and forgiving her friends, talking to her father about everything, and putting aside differences, etc.

The thing is, to me, the first part of the book was quite enjoyable, because not only was it educational, but I liked to see Kristin’s growth and development into understanding herself. I liked seeing that the author put a lot of emphasis on Kristin’s mental health (her depression), the backstory of her mother’s death (as well as her father’s grief because of that) and how that played into the storyline, but some things just seemed randomly dispersed, almost thrown in like an afterthought. While I did appreciate the whole part about Kristin volunteering at the clinic, I felt that the romance that was added to the story (with Darren) took away from what I preferred seeing, which were the friendships with Gretchen and Jessica. And the whole fiasco with Vee and Faith was ridiculous to me, because in the end, Kristin forgave Faith waaay too easily. I just think it’s fair that she could have stewed a little longer. And that scene at the end, with the fight? Kristin was barely fazed, and that irritated me. Not only was it randomly tossed into the end for some final drama, but the author had put so much emphasis on a lot of important subject matters prior to that moment in the novel, and that near brush-off was weird, to say the least.

Nevertheless, None of the Above is a good read about being an intersex teenager, and perhaps that’s why Gregario had a lot happening in only 330 pages – only just finding out you’re an intersex teenager can be difficult and scattered. There’s certainly a lot going on in terms of family, friendships, and romance, so if you would like to read a book like that, I would recommend this one.

3 stars!

– W


Review: Coming Up for Air by Miranda Kenneally

22846825Swim. Eat. Shower. School. Snack. Swim. Swim. Swim. Dinner. Homework. Bed. Repeat.

All of Maggie’s focus and free time is spent swimming. She’s not only striving to earn scholarships—she’s training to qualify for the Olympics. It helps that her best friend, Levi, is also on the team and cheers her on. But Levi’s already earned an Olympic try out, so she feels even more pressure to succeed. And it’s not until Maggie’s away on a college visit that she realizes how much of the “typical” high school experience she’s missed by being in the pool.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, Maggie decides to squeeze the most out of her senior year. First up? Making out with a guy. And Levi could be the perfect candidate. After all, they already spend a lot of time together. But as Maggie slowly starts to uncover new feelings for Levi, how much is she willing to lose to win?

Release date: July 1, 2017 (Sourcebooks Fire)

Thanks to Netgally and Sourcebooks Fire for providing me with an e-ARC!

Anyone who knows me knows how much I dive for Miranda Kenneally’s novels. They’re guaranteed to make my day, and it helps that some of the characters in older Hundred Oaks books appear in newer ones as cameos, which makes the lightheartedness and romance that much more special. So it’s really no surprise that I liked Coming Up For Air.

This installment – if that’s what you choose to call it – is about Maggie and her best friend Levi, who are training for Olympic swimming qualifiers. In between challenging herself to actually make the cut despite an old rival (Roxy), Maggie is also trying to balance a normal future college life with her newfound sexual desires, and trusts Levi, who’s had much more experience in that department, to “teach” her. It seems like a complicated story, but since it’s Miranda Kenneally, I was no less excited to read it.

I have several mixed feelings about the book, and the only way I can discuss them is by comparing my reading experience for Coming Up for Air with Kenneally’s previous release, Defending Taylor. While its predecessor made me actually fall in love with the love interest (Ezra), Coming Up for Air lacked in that department – at least in the first half of the book. Don’t get me wrong – I did like Levi, and he definitely made a swoon-worthy character, as this author’s love interests (and protagonists) tend to do. But I felt that I was seeing more of Maggie’s investment in the relationship than Levi’s (again, that developed a bit better later on), and it seemed that there was a short gap between their friendship and their sexual attraction for each other – not really an in-between.

But that doesn’t take away from what I did like about the book infinitely more. For example, I liked how Miranda handled Maggie’s feelings like a teenager would, and that the conversations Maggie had with all of her friends, her peers, and her coach, parents, and teachers, were significant in her self-improvement as a swimmer. One of the things I most like about Miranda’s novels is how simple they appear but how important they actually are – including the presence of parental figures and helpful teachers. I barely knew Maggie’s parents or Levi’s Oma and Opa, but I felt like I knew enough about them, which says a lot about character development. And of course, Sam and Jordan made an appearance (and there was a lovely epilogue at the end of the novel in Sam’s POV!!) so I was a happy reader.

What I liked the most (if this review isn’t gushing enough) was how Miranda balanced two conflicts at once and merged them in some form. Here, Maggie’s struggle to qualify for the Olympics was also in harmony with her struggle to be a normal teenager with sexual desires, and Levi basically hung in the balance with his own desire to make the cut and depend on sex to “take the edge off”. It only seemed likely that both would depend on each other, and I felt that this was handled perfectly. While I mentioned before that Levi wasn’t as swoon-worthy to me as I’d hoped, the romance definitely developed further as the story progressed. I liked that Levi made up for what he’d done to Maggie and that Maggie took her time forgiving him, as she deserved. This is definitely something I liked better in Coming Up for Air than I had in Defending Taylor, which is that self-development outweighed anything else.

I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t recommend this book, so I obviously will, if you’re looking for a lighthearted, quick read, with a lovely friends-to-lovers romance and a lot of self-improvement lessons. I laughed a lot during this book – especially at the Superman briefs and the condom-shopping! – and yes, smiled wistfully. Be sure to read this when it releases!

4 stars!

– W