I.W. Gregorio, None of the Above, Balzer & Bray, New York, 2015, 978-0-06-233531-9
I.W. Gregorio’s idea in writing None of the Above is a potent one, that of discovering you are intersex in a world where being so is neither understood nor tolerated. I looked forward to being swept away by the story, but that wasn’t to be the case. A word of warning about my disappointment. I would not wish what follows to be seen as a condemnation of the book, but rather an attempt to understand my personal reactions to it as both a reader and a writer.
First of all I had to run the gauntlet of a bevy of American teen girl markers, each striving to grab the attention of potential girl readers. Ok. I’m neither a teen nor a girl nor am I American, but none of that would normally be a barrier, on the contrary. My guess is that these don’t work because the reader senses an intention to force identification and this repels rather than attracts.
The second problem I encountered was the unidimensional nature of the story. None of the Above centres around one story line. Now there’s nothing wrong with that, lest it be my personal taste for more complex stories that are closer to the complexity of real life. But when all the other characters come across like the backdrop to somebody else’s problem, the story lacks depth and is less engaging. As a result I had read the first two hundred pages (so something must have kept me reading) and yet I was still not engrossed in the book.
Then quite unexpectedly I found myself caught up in the story and was unable to put the book down. My guess was that the author eased up on trying to get across the trials and tribulations of an intersex girl and, in doing so, finally let the characters emerge. That and a hint of mutual understanding and potential love did the trick.
As if to confirm my hypothesis, my interest abruptly waned when the author set the two girls up with a chance to talk about their ‘condition’. And again when the author used a visit to the therapist to add further insight about intersex. My conclusion? An author pushing an idea, however poignant or touching it might be, is not good for the story. If an idea is your starting point, as a novel writer, you need to break free of that and let the characters live their lives.