Introducing NONE OF THE ABOVE, a debut novel by my friend, I.W. Gregorio

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

In November 2009, Ariel Levy, a New Yorker writer, wrote an essay about the runner Caster Semenya ("Either/Or"). She was South African, a world champion, a "natural." She had a body built for speed, a body, Levy tells us, that got some whispers started:

Semenya is breathtakingly butch. Her torso is like the chest plate on a suit of armor. She has a strong jawline, and a build that slides straight from her ribs to her hips. “What I knew is that wherever we go, whenever she made her first appearance, people were somehow gossiping, saying, ‘No, no, she is not a girl,’ ” Phineas Sako said, rubbing the gray stubble on his chin. “ ‘It looks like a boy’—that’s the right words—they used to say, ‘It looks like a boy.’ Some even asked me as a coach, and I would confirm: it’s a girl. At times, she’d get upset. But, eventually, she was just used to such things.” Semenya became accustomed to visiting the bathroom with a member of a competing team so that they could look at her private parts and then get on with the race. “They are doubting me,” she would explain to her coaches, as she headed off the field toward the lavatory.

I remember reading this story front to back the day that issue of The New Yorker arrived. I felt compassion—that's what I felt—for a young athlete who was working hard and running fast and doubted. For a human being who'd had nothing to say about the nature of the body she'd been born with, who was living out the dream she had, who was being dogged and thwarted by questions. Caster Semenya was a runner. She had committed no crime. And yet there was her story—in headlines, in gossip. What were her choices, after all?

Later this year, I.W. Gregorio, a beloved physician, a former student of one of my dearest friends (Karen Rile), a joyous presence at many book launches and festivals, and a leading voice in the We Need Diverse Books initiative that has packed rooms at the BEA and the LA SCBWI, will launch a book called NONE OF THE ABOVE. This YA novel is about a high school runner—a beautiful girl with a boyfriend, a popular teen—who finds herself having this conversation with the physician who has examined her:

"So, Kristin," Dr. Shah said, "In that ultrasound I just did I wasn't able to find your uterus – your womb – at all."
"What do you mean?" I stared at her blankly.
"I want you to think back to all your visits to doctors in the past. Did anyone ever mention anything to you about something called Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, or AIS?"
"No," I said, panic rising. "What is that? It's not some kind of cancer, is it?"
"Oh, no," Dr. Shah said. "It's not anything like that. It's just a...a unique genetic syndrome that causes an intersex state - where a person looks outwardly like a female, but has some of the internal characteristics of a male."
"What do you mean, internal? Like my brain?" My chest tightened. What else could it be?
Dr. Shah's mouth opened, but then she paused, as if she wasn't sure whether she should go on. I was still trying to understand what she'd said, so I focused on her mouth as if that would allow me to understand better. I noticed that her lip-liner was a shade too dark for her lipstick. "Kristin. Miss Lattimer," she said. Why was she being so formal all the sudden?
"I think that you may be..." Dr. Shah stopped again and fingered nervously at the lanyard of her ID badge, and at her awkwardness I felt a sudden surge of sympathy toward her. So I swallowed and put on my listening face, and was smiling when Dr. Shah gathered herself and, on the third try, said what she had to say. 
"Miss Lattimer, I think that you might be what some people call a 'hermaphrodite.'"
What do the words mean? What does the diagnosis tell Kristin about who she really is? How will it change her life, what medical choices does she have, who will love the "who" of her? These are the questions Gregorio sensitively and compellingly addresses as this story unfolds—bit by bit, choice by choice, reckoning by reckoning. It takes a physician of Gregorio's knowledge and skill to tell this story. It takes, as well, a compassionate heart, and Ilene has that in spades. Ilene has not written this story to exploit. She has written it so that others might understand a condition that is more common than we think, a dilemma many young people and their parents face.

We Need More Diverse Books, and None of the Above is one of them. I share my blurb for Gregorio's book here, and wish her greatest success as her story moves into the world.

Like the beloved physician she is, I.W Gregorio brings rare knowledge and acute empathy to the illumination of an anatomical difference—and to the teens who discover, in the nick of time, the saving grace of knowing and being one’s truest self. A book unlike any other.

— Beth Kephart, author of Going Over and Small Damages


Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

I read another manuscript of IWG's, and I am really looking forward to this book!

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