Enter to win a copy of I.W. Gregorio’s None of the Above or Victoria Aveyard’s The Red Queen in OKPotato’s April Giveaway!
Here at OKP, we are desperate for diversity in the YA genre because:
A) We remember what it was like looking for representation of ourselves when we were in high school, and
B) It seems to be the genre that could reach the widest audiences with the most promising results (i.e. acceptance, understanding, and continued diversification).
So imagine my shock at discovering an upcoming YA release about an intersex teen written by an Asian-American novelist-slash-surgeon.
None of the Above is the debut novel of Ilene Wong Gregorio, a practicing MD who was inspired to pen her first YA work after helping her first intersex patient through the initial diagnosis. Though she never found out what happened to this patient in the long-run, Gregorio posits a journey from discovery to the beginnings of acceptance (self and societal) for the protagonist of her story, high school senior Kristin Lattimer.
Kristin is a pretty typical YA protagonist: white, straight, able-bodied, pretty, and reasonably popular. Everything seems to be going more than well — college to look forward to, a big win at Homecoming — until Kristin’s first time with her boyfriend, Sam. The pain during the first attempt lingers long enough that Kristin goes to her gynecologist, who discovers that Kristin not only lacks a uterus but has male gonads (or testes) and has XY chromosomes, not XX.
All these factors seem to point to the fact that Kristin has Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS), one of many different forms of intersex. In short, she is not distinctly male or female. In Kristin’s case, she presents outwardly as female, but has male sex characteristics internally.
The story follows Kristin as she grapples with what this diagnosis means and how she identifies with herself with this new definition. She must learn the different between chromosomal sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation. And she must deal with “coming out” to her family, friends, boyfriend, and the peers who once voted her Homecoming Queen.
Intersex representation in fiction, to say nothing of YA fiction, is basically non-existent, so it’s hard for me to review this book without that in mind. Gregorio handles Kristin’s internal conflict realistically and well, juggling her inability to self-identify with the need to move towards knowledge and acceptance of her condition. You can see more in the above video, “What It’s Like to be Intersex.”
(More on the book behind the cut.)
Along the way there are some Lifetime-esque predictable subplots concerning intense bullying, betrayals in friendship, and high school parties, heartbreak, and new loves. I suppose it works in its own ways to show how the usual route of teen life is upended by Kristin’s diagnosis, but each of these subplots is barely fleshed out with little room for emotional investment in the end. For example, the friendship blow-out with best friend Vee removed one of the more dynamic character personalities from the storyline, while Kristin’s Aunt Carla, the only maternal presence in Kristin’s life after her mother’s death, pops in and out of the story but never lingers enough to matter much.
The most substantial plotlines are, of course, the romantic ones. There are some successes, such as the development of Kristin’s initial relationship with Sam. They are both runners and seemingly very compatible until Kristin’s diagnosis is exposed to the school at large and Sam is accused of being gay and dating a transsexual. Watching both characters — popular athletes to begin with — buckle to their social expectations is both painful and poignant. (Although, SPOILER ALERT, fear not, readers, for once an LGBTQAI character gets a happy, if unexpected, romantic ending.)
Racial and other diversity is thin in this book, but attempted (Note: Gregorio is co-founder of We Need Diverse Books), and I suppose we can’t have everything since the intersex plot is a lot to focus on in the first place. (Gregorio has acknowledged the whitewashing of her cast here. We highly suggest reading the post as it’s very illuminating into the mind of a writer consciously grappling with media representation.) Kristin’s friend Faith Wu plays her part as Occasional Sidekick and Dr. Cheng appears to be a natural alter-ego for Gregorio herself. To an extent, I respect Gregorio’s choice of not Othering Kristin past her intersex status. It is a lot for mainstream audiences to take in and making Kristin an All-American high school girl eases the acceptance and empathy for her situation.
Overall, I am still ecstatic that this book exists for all readers, young and old, because the intersex experience is rarely discussed this openly. None of the Above is an excellent transition into that discussion with its relatable protagonist and equally relatable high school experiences despite Kristin’s unique circumstances.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Potatoes
Don’t forget to enter to win a copy of None of the Above or The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard in our April Giveaway, which ends on Thursday, 4/30!