"That was when I realized that life was a multiple-choice test with two answers: Male or Female. And I was None of the Above. "
"None of the Above" is about a LGBTQIA+ topic that is almost completely invisible in our society, even more invisible than bisexuality or asexuality: intersex. And I have to admit that I am no exception to that... although I learned a lot about gender identities, different sexualities and romantic relationships over the last few years intersex people never wwere quite on my radar. Which is a shame, I know. This is why I am happy that books like this one exist. Because it tackles a topic not many people know about – including me.
"Oh, no," Dr. Johnson said. "It's not anything like that. It's just a... a unique genetic syndrome that causes an intersex state - where a person looks outwardly like a female, but has some of the internal characteristics of a male."
As always with sensitive topics like this one you can't really judge how well it is pictured unless you experienced it yourself. So my opinion is just that: my opinion, how I felt while reading. I can't say how accurate anything is but I can say that I really liked "None of the Above".
When trying to sleep with her boyfriend Sam for the first time hurts like hell Kristin decides to see a doctor about it. And her whole world is turned upside down when Dr. Cheng tells her that she is intersex. She has not only XY chromosomes but also testicles. But no uterus.
Kristin can't wrap her mind around it. This can't be real. She is a girl, right? She has always been a girl! And she has boobs – so how can she not be a girl?
For a long time she keeps the diagnosis to herself but one day she can't bear it anymore and tells her two best friends Vee and Faith about it. And the next day the whole school knows. Kristin goes from Homecoming Queen to outcast within 24 hours. She loses everything: her boyfriend, her friends, her dignity. When the bullying becomes too much for her to handle, she decides to take a leave of absence. Now she has six weeks to get back on her feet and get to know herself again.
"But what does that mean, to 'identify' as a girl? Just because you feel like you're a girl doesn't mean that really are."
Gretchen cocked her head.
"Some people would seriously disagree with you about that. Gender is so totally a social construct."
"None of the Above" handles the topic of intersex really well. I think that I. W. Gregorio did a great job on describing how the diagnosis not only influences Kristin's life but also her perception of herself. She questions her whole life and yeah, I can totally understand that. The self-doubts, the fears and the questions – it all feels real and logical. Is her life a lie? Is she really a girl? How does her "boy parts" change her? What does it mean for her future – academic and personal?
But the best part of the book is that it really educates people. When Kristin learns about her diagnosis, so does the reader – in a way that everyone can understand what ibeing intersex means and how it affects someone's life. Also there are some explanations about the difference between gender, sex and identities, which is an important part of Kristin's development. And yes, there is a development. With time she figures out who she is and who she wants to be.
So, yes, "None of the Above" is a very good book but it also has its flaws. For example the characters. All of them were kind of flat and stereotypical. Kristin, the nice girl who helps everyone. Vee, the loyal party girl. Faith, the Christian with a good heart. Sam, the football player. We've seen them all. A lot. Everywhere. So they were kind of boring. But this is actually something I can ignore since the rest of the story was done well.
Also the ending is kind of clichéd. I can't tell you much to not spoiler you but since this is a Young Adult novel you could probably guess how the last few pages turned out. To my taste it was way to kitschy and predictable. I really wished it would be different from all the other teenager novels but well... you can't have it all, right?!
"Do you know what another word for normal is?"
Gretchen reached out for another mozzarella stick and ate it while I racked my brain for synonyms, I was horrible at this game. The only word I could come up with was typical.
"That's not the one my mom always told me", she said.
"Then what?" I asked impatiently.
Gretchen picked up her glass of water and looked into it. Her lips formed a perfect kiss around the straw as she took a sip.
"Average", she said.
--------- Fazit ---------
"None of the Above" is a really important book about an important yet invisible topic. I think everyone – especially teens – should read it. To reduce prejudices, to educate, to become more aware of what's outside of our tiny hetero- and cisnormative bubble. Because not everyone fits into that... and even more important: not everyone wants to.