This was a difficult book for me to categorize. I started it thinking it was a transgender romance, but was unprepared for the actual story. I had never heard the term “intersex” before reading None of the Above (neither had my laptop, it keeps autocorrecting to “interest”). What an important story to be told.
Kristin is a normal teenage girl, popular, star of the track team, dealing with her senior year in high school, college acceptances, life, boyfriend, sex. Until her Homecoming dance, when she and boyfriend Sam decide it is time to go all the way. It doesn’t work out the way she thought it would. It doesn’t work at all. The first time, or the next.
At a visit to the doctor to make sure everything is ok, Kristin (and her doctor) are shocked to discover she is intersex. Specifically, Kristin has AIS, or Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Outwardly, she looks like a girl. She feels like a girl. But inside, she has male chromosomes, and even testicles.
The story of a teen girl having her world turned upside down, the bullying she endures when her secret is leaked, the friends that stand beside her and those that turn their backs, would be heartbreaking under any circumstances. Add ignorance and intolerance to the mix, and your heart will stop.
But along the way, as she learns to live with and accept her condition, Kristin finds others who have the same challenges. She reads stories online, finds support groups, and realizes that not all of her friends have turned their backs on her.
This novel is definitely not a romance, but the relationships in the book do impact on the theme of acceptance. They help drive home the point that it is the person you love, not their chromosomes (to paraphrase a lovely boy with courage and common sense).
Kristin is a great narrator for this story. She questions everything, and looks at all angles for her answers. She is, in the end, willing to see that she is not the only one dealing with the shock of her condition. I found her combination of maturity in some areas of her life, and childishness in others, incredibly realistic. Teens are not adults; their lack of life experience, whether it is dealing with broken friendships or an unexpected medical diagnosis, shows itself at different times.
The novel is funny, sad, hopeful, terrifying, horrible, heartbreaking and full of love and acceptance. The characters and their different reactions to Kristin were authentic; shock, questioning, horror, disbelief, respect. Her father’s relief in learning Kristin doesn’t have a cervix, so can never die of the terrible disease that climbed his wife’s life, seemed so dad-like to me.
Author Irene Gregorio is a surgeon, and met her first intersex patient when she was a surgical resident. Read her notes at the end to understand her inspiration for the novel. They will make you cry as much as the story does.
Everyone should read this book. It is a lesson in tolerance and understanding, and is a very important story.
None of the Above is published by Balzer & Bray.