None of the Above, by I.W. Gregorio
Balzer + Bray
One of the many things that I love and greatly appreciate about today’s young adult (YA) fiction is how beautifully it explores the multi-faceted and deepest layers of our ever-changing, often messy, intricately complex world. I say “our” because the world of today’s tweens and teens is, increasingly, the world of adults.
Reading YA is the ultimate reality show. I mean that in the very best way, because what’s being written for this audience – one that includes a notable percentage of adults, myself among them – is nothing short of groundbreaking. It is one of the reasons why I keep on keeping on with my own YA novel because there is no better time to tell the stories that I think today’s young people (and many adults) desperately need.
With None of the Above, debut novelist I.W. Gregorio is a writer (as well as a mother and a surgeon) who has given her readers such a story, one that explores identity and acceptance through the perspective of a main character who, within the first 35 pages of the book, has just learned she was born intersex. (A definition, from I.W. Gregorio’s intersex resource page on her website: a biological condition in which people are born with bodies that don’t fit neatly into our understanding of what is male or female, whether it be because of their chromosomal sex, or because of their internal or external genitalia.)
In None of the Above, Kristin Lattimer is a high school senior who appears to have everything: the perfect boyfriend; two BFFs; a Homecoming Queen title, and an athletic scholarship. Raised by her father since her mother’s death six years earlier from cervical cancer, Kristin and her dad have arrived at that “new normal” where they’ve processed and accepted their loss but not without twinges of memories imprinting their everyday routines.
At 18, Kristin’s relationship with Sam is a consensual one with realistic, thoughtful decision-making about sex. And it is that decision which leads Kristin to a doctor’s appointment and an examination where she learns that she is intersex, a person born with both male and female characteristics. The novel focuses on her external struggle – after only telling her most trusted friends about her diagnosis, the entire school quickly finds out and the backlash is swift, laced with ignorance and cruelty.
None of the Above focuses heavily on Kristin’s emotional conflict, too. While processing the stigma associated with being intersex and others’ insensitivity, she struggles with identifying herself by the sum of her parts – no uterus, a short vagina, internal gonads – and finding the strength within to move forward with the support of caring people in her life and those qualities that shape who she is as a person.
“Hurdlers were a breed of their own. When Coach Auerbach talked about the hurdles, she cautioned us that the event wasn’t for the faint of heart. ‘Hurdling has the steepest learning curve, and probably the most painful. It’s all about technique, so there’s a ton of practice involved. A lot of hitting your knees and face-planting. They say that hurdlers need three things: speed, flexibility, and courage.
Within the first day of learning how to hurdle, I knew she was right to warn us. I looked at my sprinter friends and was totally jealous of how easy they seemed to have it. But at the same time, I loved being hard-core. That’s who I was: a hurdler. And hurdlers were never afraid to fail.” (pg. 243)
This is a story that I connected with the minute I heard about this book, well before I turned the first page. As a woman diagnosed with Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser Syndrome (MRKH) at 16, I walked a very similar path as Kristin, minus the athleticism and Homecoming nomination and – thankfully, miraculously, gratefully – without the social ostracization and bullying that Kristin experiences in None of the Above. And while there are differences with MRKH and AIS, there are more than enough “yep, me too, been-there-done-that” connections and experiences to make None of the Above resonate with me on a deeply personal level.
“But once you understood what you were … how could someone not want to be fixed? I couldn’t conceive of a world in which I wasn’t broken.” (pg. 146)
This is one of those books that I appreciate tremendously for the sensitive way the author handles a subject matter that’s considered by some to be taboo. Books like None of the Above are desperately needed, and as a founding member and supporter of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, I.W. Gregorio truly understands this.
Because of books like None of the Above and authors like I.W. Gregorio, there exists the hope for a more caring, sensitive, and accepting world.