Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Annual 2015.
“Maybe I was a glutton for punishment. But this I believed: it shouldn’t be possible to stop loving someone so quickly.
Eighteen-year-old high school athlete Kristin Lattimer is unexpectedly voted homecoming queen, and on that same night, she decides to finally lose her virginity to her long-time boyfriend and running partner, Sam. But things don’t go well, and Kristin’s first trip to an ob-gyn reveals something her family doctor has overlooked all her life: she has an intersex condition, including XY chromosomes and ambiguous internal sex organs. This revelation throws Kristin for a loop, threatening to destroy her relationship with Sam, and even jeopardizing her college track and field scholarship. But none of that compares to the betrayal she feels when one of her best friends reveals her diagnosis to the entire school. As Kristin struggles to affirm her female identity, she faces bullying, ostracism, and a dizzying array of medical decisions.
Loosely inspired by Caster Semenya’s treatment by the IAAF and the press in the aftermath of her strong showing at the 2012 Olympics, as well as the author’s own experience with an intersex patient during her residency, Ilene Gregorio describes None of the Above as “Middlesex meets Mean Girls,” which is accurate in so far as it is about complicated friendships, and how social groups police gender behaviours and identities.
None of the Above highlights the digital aspects of our modern lives. The internet plays a central role in Kristin’s crisis, as a both a site of bullying from her classmates, and source of critical information and support. Because Kristin discovers her condition relatively late in life, when she is already legally an adult, she faces a very different situation from characters like Max in Abigail Tarttelin’s Golden Boy, who have been lied to, and had their medical choices controlled by, their parents and doctors. Reeling, she turns to the internet seeking more information about her options, even as she has to avoid the taunts and bullying that make her online spaces as unsafe as her school.
None of the Above is heavily issue-driven, but proportional to the extent that society remains ignorant about this condition, the popularity of Middlesex a decade ago notwithstanding. As a doctor who has treated intersex people, Gregorio has to find a balance between explaining Kristin’s condition in plain language, and medical accuracy about such a relatively unknown topic. Gregorio fits a lot into the story, has also provided more supplementary information in her author’s note, and on her website. It is also a delicate act to balance accurate information from some character sources against the ignorance and insensitivity of others, and Kristin’s own self-doubts. In the author’s note, Gregorio writes about the decision to use and then challenge the term “hermaphrodite” within the text, precisely because it may be familiar to readers who remain unware of its pejorative connotations.
None of the Above has a straight-forward and relatively quick-moving plot arc that goes to a somewhat stereotypical place in the climax. However, Gregorio finishes it with a little twist, and makes the situation about Kristin seeing her worst fear come true, and realizing that she can survive it. What the story lacks in surprises, it makes up for in compassion and insight. Gregorio’s exploration of the concept of gender identity has implications well beyond Kristin’s fairly specific situation. It is also fast paced, and compelling enough that I read through it in a single sitting.