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?
None of the Above, I.W. Gregorio’s debut novel, first drew my attention when its cover was revealed on the Book Smugglers. I thought the cover was eye-catching in its simplicity, able to convey all of the important information about its contents in one glance. And once I’d read the accompanying flap text and the interviews with the cover designers and the editor, I was completely sold on this story. And Gregorio didn’t disappoint in the slightest. Once I started the book I was completely hooked, both by the writing and Kristin’s voice. None of the Above is a powerful story about discovering who you are and how those who truly matter will look beyond the surface to truly see you.
The central premise the book is Kristin’s discovery of being intersex and learning what that means. As someone aware of what it meant – thanks to Laura Lam’s Micah Grey books – but not having had any direct experience with it in my surroundings, I found that Gregorio treated the topic with great care and respect and without letting the book become a text book, explained quite a lot about the condition. What I really appreciated was that Gregorio didn’t make what was in Kristin’s pants (or not) the most important thing about the narrative; she very much focuses on Kristin’s perception of herself and of who she wants to be. One of the questions Kristin keeps asking herself (and keeps getting asked by others) is “Am I a girl?” and the narrative will return the same answer again and again: “Yes, you are a girl. You identify as female, so that is what you are, no matter what your sex or DNA says.” As such, this book might have a powerful message for transgender teens as well.
Kristin tells her story in the first person and does so with a great sense of humour, but also starkly honest. Gregorio has created a memorable character and voice in her protagonist, one that is easy to connect to and to root for. Having lost her mum to cervical cancer at a young age, she and her dad are a close-knit family unit. Despite this early loss, Kristin actually seems remarkably well-adjusted and in a good place with two best friends, a loving boyfriend, and her college scholarship already secured. When everything falls apart after Kristin’s diagnosis, you can feel her and her dad’s shock at having something so painful happen to them again. It also echoes through all of Kristin’s medical decisions. She decides treatment and procedures not from solely from a fear of “OMG, they will think I’m X,Y, or Z!” She is also affected by the memories of her mum’s illness and that influences her decisions perhaps even more, along with wanting to spare her father another devastating loss.
Gregorio shows how completely Kristin’s life is overturned, not just showing the effects of her diagnosis on her relationship with her boyfriend Sam, but also looking at the reactions of her classmates, her relationship with her best friends, and even having it possibly affect her hurdling scholarship. I loved that part of the narrative is so very tightly focussed on her friendship with Faith and Vanessa, perhaps even more than on her relationship with Sam. I felt so disappointed with Sam, his reaction was just so unfair. And while Vanessa’s reaction seems to be equally disappointing at first, I loved how Kristin, Faith and Vanessa are able to communicate and figure things and themselves out.
There is a brutal and raw quality to Kristin’s story. Especially once she gets outed to the entire school there were scenes that were painful to read. Kristin faces a lot of trans- and homophobia from her fellow students, who have no idea what intersex actually means. But the horrible reactions and behaviour is balanced by discovering that there are people that will stand by her no matter what, both adults and peers. I loved her burgeoning friendships with Jessica and Darren. Outside of school, Kristin also discovers the value and importance of support groups, when she connects to a group of people who are intersex like her. She discovers that it is possible to build a happy, healthy life and that she definitely isn’t a freak. Gretchen, who becomes her friend and confidante, is an awesome character and I wish we could have seen more of her, just because she is that awesome.
Ultimately, None of the Above was a very hopeful novel. Despite having her whole world turned upside-down and losing everything she thought was most important, Kristin manages to live through it and at least starts to rebuild her life. I loved Kristin’s voice – her sense of humour and strong personality jumped from every page. Despite covering serious subject matter and some tense and even dangerous situations, None of the Above never felt heavy-handed or dark. Gregorio delivered a fantastic and compelling debut novel in None of the Above, one that is sure to be on my favourite 2015 debuts list at the end of the year.