Review: Finding Nevo by Nevo Zisin
This book was kindly sent to me for review by Walker Books Australia
Identifying as non-binary, 21-year-old student Nevo Zisin wasn’t born in the wrong body. Nevo just wants everyone to catch-up with all that Nevo is. As long as they can remember, surrounded by family, friends and privilege in Melbourne’s South-Eastern suburbs, Nevo was on a journey to find their identity.
Finding Nevo is a compellingly honest memoir of a young person growing up and struggling to fit into society's understanding of their gender. Through their teen years, and as a young adult, Nevo has identified as a lesbian, a transgender man and now as non-binary. Nevo uses gender-neutral pronouns such as 'they' and 'them' and is currently a student and activist in both the Jewish and LGBTQIA+ communities.
Firstly I have to say I love the cover of Finding Nevo. It's an excellent design, and I think it deserves a mention. Nevo's writing is bold and concise, the narrative is well-structured, following Nevo's internal as well as social struggles. I particularly found the insight into Australia's Jewish communities interesting, as it was not something I'd been particularly aware of before.
The different aspects of Nevo's gender identity are a huge part of their journey. Nevo's process of discovery is part of every stage of their life. Finding Nevo tells an utterly relatable story of growing up in Australia. Nevo shares their struggles with anger, with childhood bullying and self-esteem. The book also paints a beautiful picture of teenage friendship and resilience. Nevo refers to the friends they made in late primary school as "a powerful group of girls" and the stories shared about these girls, as well as friends Nevo had in high school were refreshing. It is lovely to read young women depicted with an honest respect and admiration.
There are major parts of Nevo's journey that are distressing to read and must have been horrible to experience. A large part of this comes from their experience as a trans non-binary person living in a society that not only doesn't accept them but includes people who actively seek to harm them. Nevo’s shares their story with honesty, generosity and compelling self-reflection.
Finding Nevo is not a tragedy. It is a positive book filled with clever humour and an endearing enthusiasm. Nevo is unapologetic about their identity and what it means, they’re also insightful and empathetic towards their family and community’s experiences. Nevo shares astute observations about society in general. As someone who has been read as both female and male, Nevo has a unique insight into the misogyny prevalent in Australia, whether internalised or otherwise, and shares what they learnt through the experience.
Many people have pointed out the timely nature of this book, as well as its significance in speaking to current issues in Australia. Regardless of your opinions on gender and sexuality, I think it is important to listen to and empathise with people who have experiences different to your own. Nevo clearly says in the book that this story is their experience, and as such is not a universal experience for trans or non-binary people. As with any group, all kinds of people experience things in different ways, which is why it is so important to have many stories reflecting diverse experiences.
What I want to say is this: If you struggle to understand (or just don't agree with) why someone might identify as non-binary or even transgender, this book will give you a really helpful idea of what it was like for Nevo. Reading it will also give you some insight into why some issues that seem unimportant can be so vital for marginalised people. For example, using the preferred pronouns for someone is not very difficult, though it takes a little bit of intentional thinking. Refusing to use them can be deeply harmful to someone's mental health and feeling of safety. It is important to engage thoughtfully with other people's narratives and to work hard not to do people harm.
‘… I don’t want to hear how my story has touched you. I would rather hear what you’re going to do to make this world safer so that each trans person doesn’t need to be a role model. So we can live our lives without being constantly politicised. So we can choose to be activists, not be forced into it.’
I would like to thank my sister, Jacinta, for their editorial assistance that went above and beyond. You should check out their recently started blog for interesting literary commentary and hopefully some poetry. They're an amazing writer, totally adorable, and I am not at all biased.