Hello everyone! 😊
Today I’m going to do a quick book chat for I. W. Gregorio’s contemporary novel, None of the Above. I finished this novel in two days, and I really enjoyed the story. None of the Above prompted me to think more deeply about ideas and beliefs that I had never really been exposed to or haven’t felt inclined to think about further before, which is really all I can ask for in a novel like this one. 😊👍
If you haven’t read this book yet, here is the publisher’s description of the novel:
A groundbreaking story about a teenage girl who discovers she was born intersex… and what happens when her secret is revealed to the entire school. Incredibly compelling and sensitively told, None of the Above is a thought-provoking novel that explores what it means to be a boy, a girl, or something in between.
What if everything you knew about yourself changed in an instant?
When Kristin Lattimer is voted homecoming queen, it seems like another piece of her ideal life has fallen into place. She’s a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college and she’s madly in love with her boyfriend. In fact, she’s decided that she’s ready to take things to the next level with him.
But Kristin’s first time isn’t the perfect moment she’s planned—something is very wrong. A visit to the doctor reveals the truth: Kristin is intersex, which means that though she outwardly looks like a girl, she has male chromosomes, not to mention boy “parts.”
Dealing with her body is difficult enough, but when her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school, Kristin’s entire identity is thrown into question. As her world unravels, can she come to terms with her new self?
Without further ado, let’s discuss what I took (and learned) from this novel! 👏
The Influence of Being an Athlete 🏃
Our main character of None of the Above is Kristin Lattimer, who is established from the very beginning of the novel to be an intense athlete. Throughout the story, it becomes apparent that being an athlete has greatly influenced Kristin in many of her beliefs and decisions.
Gregorio doesn’t give much background on Kristin’s past experience as an athlete, as the story focuses more on Kristin’s current thoughts and emotions once she discovers she’s intersex, but I do think that being an athlete has much to do with Kristin’s instant decision to get surgery and the distaste of her identity as a someone who is intersex.
I’m going to assume that, as a female athlete, Kristin faced some kind of gender discrimination from other — perhaps males — athletes. I can come to this conclusion because of what Kristin says near the ending of the novel:
“Dad! You run like a girl!” I shouted after him, because it had always been a point of pride for me that I didn’t, a fact that made me want to both laugh and cry. (224)
If you look at the page number, you can see that Kristin said this 224 pages into the novel, which was long after she discovered she had androgen insensitivity syndrome. I was quite shocked when I read this because it really shows how single-minded Kristin still is, even so late into the story. Yes, her experience of discovering that she is intersex has opened her eyes on topics revolving one’s gender and identity, but her beliefs and values are still weak in the sense that she still doesn’t think entirely for herself — much of her opinions are based on or taken directly from other people’s mouths.
In that sense, I think Gregorio’s portrayal of Kristin is brilliant. She shows how, despite all that Kristin had gone through and learned about in terms of gender, Kristin still makes fun of other people by saying “You run like a girl!”
If Kristin identifies as a female, which she does in the novel, and she ends up doing the act of running… Well, that would mean Kristin runs like a girl because she is a girl. A person runs as they are because they are simply themselves. Kristin knows this in the back of her mind, but because she is not mature enough and does not have a strong identity, she can’t easily rid herself of all the societal beliefs her society has inculcated within her.
Basically, I think that Kristin’s earlier statement about “running like a girl” and her opinions on gender are heavily influenced by her experience as an athlete. As a child, she probably gathered she needed to be tougher and not run “like a girl” to be respected within her school’s athlete community, and this belief throughout her childhood has stuck with her, even throughout her discovery that she’s intersex and the revelations she’s had about being more open-minded with gender.
Kristin’s Relationship with Sam 😐
In None of the Above, Gregorio creates brilliantly complex relationships between the secondary characters and Kristin, one of the most influential being Sam, Kristin’s boyfriend. It was interesting seeing the contrast between the way Sam treated Kristin at the beginning of the novel versus the way he treats her after he finds about her androgen insensitivity syndrome.
“I’ve got nothing to say to you, you homo,” he said loudly, his eyes darting back and forth to the people behind me. Bruce and a couple of football players came over and I sensed them closing in. Fear dried my throat. (113)
It’s very clear that Sam isn’t thinking for himself — like Kristin when she says “You run like a girl,” Sam is using other people’s opinions and beliefs on gender to judge Kristin instead of using his own ideas. In the quote above, you can tell how much Sam cares about what other people think of him. His eyes had darted “back and forth to the people behind [Kristin],” emphasizing how his focus wasn’t on what he personally thinks of Kristin — he’s too caught up trying to predict what other people will think of him because of his relationship with Kristin.
One word comes to mind when I read about that kind of behavior and mentality: weak. 😐
For the reason stated above, Sam is a very pathetic character. The part I’m conflicted on is that fact that Kristin actually felt guilty about Sam’s behavior, because his behavior towards her prompted Kristin to believe that she had done something wrong by simply being intersex. Kristin mentions several times that she felt bad for Sam because of the way people were teasing him for being in a relationship with her, and intersex person; as a reader, it was interesting to read about that kind of mentality when I would, in Kristin’s shoes, never blame myself for Sam’s behavior and instantly discard that kind of thinking.
But, if Kristin thought that… would that make her weak as well?
Kristin, in that particular moment, was vulnerable and exposed and simply wanted Sam to comfort her and accept her for who she was. Meanwhile, Sam had an army of friends and acquaintances urging him to reject Kristin’s pleas for acceptance. To go against his peers would be for Sam to lose the majority of the popularity he holds with his peers, which would consequently equate to giving up social power. Kristin didn’t have that kind of peer support, so for her to go after Sam so desperately actually gains the sympathy of the reader instead of frustration, which would be directed towards Sam.
See how perfectly crafted Gregorio made Kristin and Sam’s relationship? Despite how frustrating or foolish Kristin might be in the novel, I feel nothing for sympathy for her — nothing negative. All the negative thoughts and mental glares are directed towards people like Sam.
Another complex relationship developed in the novel would be…
Kristin’s Relationship with Her Father
“Faith and I are going out tonight,” I lied.
“Oh, okay.” I could see the relief in his eyes. “Do you need some money for gas?” It was his favorite way to be a good dad, so I took the twenty that he waved at me. (181)
Kristin’s father is a single dad (Kristin’s mother died from cancer a few years before the story takes place), and it’s clear that Kristin and her father aren’t that close. Their interactions with each other are minuscule and when they do cross paths, the moments are short, and sometimes even awkward, to read about. The part of the novel that I really disproved of was when Kristin got violently attacked by a man at a bar, yet yet a serious discussion between her and her father was never instigated in the novel. That alone shows how distant the two are in their father-daughter relationship.
Part of the reason why Kristin so easily sunk into depression is because of her weak support system. She realizes later in the novel that she didn’t really have anyone to lean on for support throughout her whirlwind of emotions when she found out she was intersex, and her father was never someone she would go to for that kind of support.
If there’s one thing to take away from this novel in terms of relationships, it is to have quality relationships with people instead of quantity. Acquaintances won’t be there to offer unending support when you need it, as was shown by Kristin’s experience with her friends. In the end, having deep and positive relationships with a few close friends and family members will bring someone much more happiness than a wide arrangement of acquaintances when trouble falls.
What else about Kristin’s Character?
Personally, Kristin is not a character I would look up to. I found her to be very immature most of the novel, and she also has an extremely weak mentality in terms of not being able to separate her own beliefs with societal ones.
In addition, she is very reckless — she got surgery without thinking it through (but she didn’t show any regret afterwards so I supposed that was an okay decision for her? 🤔) and she went to a couple of bars alone. Very, very reckless, especially with what happened to her at that last bar scene — and she was with a group of girls for that last one, too.
Nevertheless, despite all her flaws, I do have respect for Kristin. Gregorio did an excellent job matching Kristin’s character with situations that allowed the reader to accept Kristin’s flaws and feel sympathy for her, rather than be annoyed or frustrated with her character. For me, as a reader, I realized that Kristin’s weak social support from her father, Sam, and friends, as well the way she innately tends to follow the herd, probably prompted her to act the way she did throughout the novel.
In Terms of the Actual Writing… ✍🏻
The writing itself of None of the Above isn’t lyrical, beautiful writing, and in a way, I’m glad it was that way for this particular book. Without poetic or lyrical writing, I was really able to focus on understanding the events that were explicitly stated to happen in the novel. Gregorio does a great job explaining some medical terms in the book — I have to admit, when I read “karyotype” and knew what it meant, I was quite proud of myself. 😁
If you’re looking for a beautifully written novel, None of the Above won’t satisfy that. Rather, I would recommend for someone to read None of the Above with an open mind and a willingness to spend time thinking about the information Gregorio puts in the novel, as well as why Kristin acts the way she does. 😊👍
Before we wrap this book chat up, here is
One Favorite Moment of Mine from the novel:
“Oh, I know I’ll probably get in somewhere good [for college]. But sometimes I remember that, in the grand scheme of things, I’m just a little speck of dust in the universe.” (242)
Just the fact that this quote sounds like something I would say in real life made it my absolute favorite quote of None of the Above. In fact, I think I’ve probably written something similar to that during one of my travel posts for Sequoia and Kings Canyon… 😆
And btw, I am SO. EXCITED. FOR. SUMMMEEEER!!!🏖 *mini party*
Thanks for reading, have a great day, and I will cya next time!