If you want a symbol of how little thought we put toward gender, consider the stick figures on the doors of public restrooms. One wears a skirt; the other, presumably, wears pants. Boom. One binary choice. You don't even need to be able to read to get it. But just about everybody understands now that a significant portion of the population doesn't fit into that binary, and more progressive corners of society are pushing for us to understand that the "binary" is actually a spectrum of sexuality and gender. But people seeking some level of understanding when it comes to, say, transgender issues might have a hard time educating themselves-after all, asking someone you barely know about their genitals is pretty much as rude as you can get. So how can you expect people to learn?

Local author Jaimee Garbacik's Gender & Sexuality for Beginners (For Beginners, $16.99) is a skinny book that aspires to cover a lot of ground. Here you'll find chapters on the history of feminism, a timeline of the fight for gay rights, a dismantling of the idea that certain genders are born predestined for certain tasks, and a biological discussion of sexuality and gender. It's a book that anyone at any educational level can pick up and start reading, from teens trying to figure out who they are, to parents trying to understand their children, to students looking to get a foothold into an overwhelming subject matter.

Garbacik's passionate, information-packed prose is illustrated on nearly every page by cartoonist Jeffrey Lewis, and the pairing makes what could be an intimidating read much more approachable. Lewis's sketches of figures (Smurfette, Sojourner Truth, a lineup of protohumans from Australopithecus on up to Homo sapiens) and cartoons featuring friendly characters discussing topics like what the "Q" in "LGBTQ" stands for illuminate the dense prose. Even if you're fairly familiar with the subjects, you'll learn something along the way. (I had no idea, for example, that women were not guaranteed the right to serve on juries until the Supreme Court made a ruling in 1975. We've come a long way in a short time.)

This is a book for everyone: useful, smart, opinionated, surprising. It's not the final word or the authoritative source on gender and sexuality, but it's a great first step. Even more important, and this is not something I get to say very often: If a copy of it were to land in the right pair of hands, this is a book that could save a life.