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None of the AboveReview - None of the Above
by I. W. Gregorio
Harper Audio, 2015
Review by Christian Perring
Nov 24th 2015 (Volume 19, Issue 48)

There are not many young adult novels about intersex individuals, so None of the Above automatically carries some interest. It is narrated by Kristin Lattimer, an 18-year-old member of the high school track team. She has been going steady with her boyfriend Sam for a while, and so when it gets to homecoming, she is ready to have sex. It doesn't go well, and so she makes an appointment with a gynecologist. Soon she discovers that she is different -- her vagina is very short, she has gonads, and male chromosomes. She has androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS) and the doctor tells her that the old fashioned name for her condition is "hermaphrodite."  The first challenge for Kristin is to make sense of what this all means and how her father will react.  Her mother died several years ago from cancer, so Kristin and her father are especially close. He is very supportive after his initial panic about what it all means and he encourages her to reach out to support groups for intersex people.  We get surprisingly explicit descriptions of Kristin working on vaginal dilation so that she will be better able to have sexual intercourse.

At first it looks like Kristin will soon be on the road to adjusting well to her new diagnosis. She successfully has sex with Sam, although she wonders when she should tell him her news. She drunkenly tells her closest friends her conundrum, and this turns out to be a big mistake, because the next day the whole school knows. It turns out that teenagers are full of prejudice and hate for anyone who is different. She is bullied and isolated. Sam fears teasing from his friends and breaks up with her immediately, telling her that he is not gay and does not want to be with her. She gets into a fight with one of her close friends, and their friendship ends suddenly. Her coach tells her that she can't be on the track team because it isn't clear that she is a female. It isn't long before her life is so difficult that she decides to stay away from school and avoid everyone, rather than face the bullying.

The story gets better for Kristin as she makes connection with other intersex women, and she also starts seeing a therapist. She eventually starts going back to school and she even finds a boy who likes her. What's more, she finds that she can't be excluded from the track team. There is drama dealing with more prejudice and homophobic reactions from people she doesn't even know, but she is not overcome by the experience. So the story ends optimistically, with Kristin able to visualize a happy future.

None of the Above conveys plenty of information about both the biology of AIS, what kind of help is available from doctors and therapists, and the intersex community. It goes into some detail about the debate over whether the male gonads should be surgically removed or not.  It also is realistic about how much prejudice and misunderstanding intersex people are likely to face, and it helps to explain the relationships between intersex, transgender, and homosexuality. 

Gregorio also manages to craft a good story with believable characters. Being intersex isn't Kristin's only struggle; she also has the loss of her mother to contend with, her father who has been dating some of the mothers of friends, and Kristin's judgment in choosing her friends is also called into question. The dialog is done well and there are enough characters to keep the plot moving fast. There are plenty of turns of phrase that also help Kristin seem real. The unabridged audiobook is performed by Caitlin Davies. She makes Kristin sound appropriately young and expressive of the emotional rollercoaster she rides.

So None of the Above would be a helpful book either for intersex people or anyone else wanting an easy way to educate themselves more about the issues surrounding the condition.

 

© 2015 Christian Perring

 

Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York


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