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I Am J Hardcover – March 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, March 2011: Growing up, J (born as Jennifer) always thought of himself as a boy stuck in the body of a girl. In elementary school J shunned his mom’s attempts to stick him in dresses and preferred the rough-and-tumble play of boys on the playground. Now, as a teenager, J’s Puerto Rican mother and Jewish father want him to think about his future and one day start a family, a possibility that makes J feel misunderstood and anxious about what lies ahead. So after an argument with his best friend, J strikes out on his own. He starts classes at a school for transgender and gay teens, but the complications resulting from who he is and who he wants to be prevent J from truly connecting with anyone. Fed up hiding inside layers of oversized t-shirts, J decides to explore testosterone treatments and embarks on a path that will test his patience, maturity, and commitment. Author Cris Beam’s extraordinary understanding of this often overlooked population shows in J--a complex, conflicted character whose emotional journey will resonate beyond the final page. Equally impressive is Beam’s vivid dialog, which illuminates relationships and situations that any teen who has felt isolated will easily relate to. Thoughtfully researched and written, I Am J is ultimately an inspiring novel about deciding to lead the life one is meant to--no matter at what cost. --Jessica Schein

From School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up-When J reached adolescence, he quit the swim team and began covering his body with extra clothes to hide the fact that he had been born a girl. At 17, J dreams of being accepted as a boy, binding his breasts and despising his monthly periods. His close friend, Melissa, a cutter, tries her best to understand and support him. His parents are confused, angry, and sad. He runs away from home and enrolls in a special school for gay and transgender teens, where he makes a helpful friend, a transgender girl. He also embarks on a shaky romance with Blue, a straight female artist who believes J is a boy and to whom he must eventually confess the truth. When he learns about testosterone and how it can help with his transformation, he is overjoyed, despite the obstacles he faces in getting the drug legally. Finally, J turns 18 and is able to begin getting his shots. He applies to and is accepted at college to study photography as a transgender young man, and holds out hope that one day his parents will accept him as well. Beam is the author of the informative adult book, Transparent: Love, Family and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers (Houghton, 2007). This novel is just as impressive. J is an especially vivid character, and the supporting characters are carefully drawn. Told in third person, the story is believable and effective due to insightful situations, realistic language, and convincing dialogue. Readers who relished Julie Anne Peters's Luna (Little, Brown, 2004) will snap it up.-Diane P. Tuccillo, Poudre River Public Library District, Fort Collins, CO (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (March 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316053619
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316053617
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #841,138 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Cris Beam's most recent book is To The End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013). Her first book was Transparent: Love, Family and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers (Harcourt, 2007) which won a Lambda Literary Award and was a Stonewall Honor Book. Her young adult novel, I am J, was released by Little, Brown in March 2011, and was named a Kirkus Best Book and Library Guild Selection of 2011, and is the first book with a transgender character to be placed on the state of California's recommended reading list for public high schools. Her short memoir, Mother, Stranger was published by The Atavist in 2012 and quickly reached the top ten on Kindle Singles. Cris teaches creative writing at Columbia University, New York University, and Bayview Women's Correctional Facility. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Columbia and lives in New York City. She's currently working on a novel.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Lawral Wornek on March 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I was a little scared of this book. I knew that Beam had it in her to realistically portray the transgender experience, so my expectations were super high. I also knew that a book like this has the potential to be filled with well-meaning stereotypes in order to present the most inclusive picture: of trans folk, of Puerto Rican New Yorkers, of the dream of being a "real boy," and more. But my fears were unfounded; I loved this book. J really rang true to me as a character and as a transguy, and his experiences, though not universal (thankfully not everyone has to move out or change schools in order to transition, though some undoubtedly do), were realistic. I Am J was everything I hoped it would be.

But I did have a couple of problems. I found it hard to believe that J, who has been looking around on the internet for information and support since he was eleven, hadn't heard about T (testosterone injections) or a (chest) binder until he was seventeen. I'm willing to let that go as it allows the reader to learn about these things at the same time that J does. I don't think it would have been such a problem if the book wasn't so obviously written by someone who, like J's support group leader, "talk[s] about the 'gender binary' and 'those of trans-masculine identification' as easily as reciting the alphabet" (243).* Beam is a very very knowledgeable woman, as evidenced by her previous work of non-fiction, Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers. She seemed to have a difficult time balancing her wealth of knowledge with the naiveté of her narrator.

This may look like more criticisms than praise, but it's really not!
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Rachel Kramer Bussel VINE VOICE on March 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I Am J is a moving look at a teenager's gender transition and coming of age. J has known he was meant to be a boy since he was little, but hasn't had a way to truly articulate that or figure out how to make it an actuality until the time this book takes place, when he's 17. He wants to share the news with his best friend, Melissa, but being a little bit in love with her, or at the very least, having a major crush, he has trouble expressing exactly what it is he's feeling. He is also just discovering the ways he can actually turn himself not just into a boy, but into a man, and he hits a lot of stumbling blocks along the way.

His family is one of the biggest stumbling blocks, and trying to stay close to them when they don't understand what he's going through is a theme that crops up throughout the book, something he continues to navigate. J starts to create a new "family" when he starts at a new school and starts to meet fellow transgender people. He meets Blue, one of the most fascinating characters in the book (and not just because she has blue hair and paints exclusively in shades of blue), who becomes his girlfriend.

I didn't always like everything J did, but I thought he was a fascinating character, and as he matures, he figures out how to have empathy for those around him, like Melissa, and seek out the help he needs to be the man he wants to be. He realizes that his transition is extremely important to him, but that photography is also his passion, and that entirely abandoning his previous life wasn't necessary to lead him on the path he needed to be. Beam doesn't try to paint J as the "perfect" trans teenager (is there such a thing?) but as a human one who is figuring out who he is, who his role models are, and where he fits in at school, home and in the world.
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Format: Hardcover
Until I found this novel, I was admittedly unaware of the fact that trans-focused fiction existed; I assumed it was all non-fiction. Perhaps it was just the shock that there was a novel somewhere that I could really, truly relate to as a trans-guy that made me love "I am J" so much, but it also seemed to be the ease with which the author painted J and his struggles just to exist. His character advances so realistically with each event he goes through, whether he shows it externally or not, and nearly every internal battle he goes through reminds me of my own thoughts. The fact that the author accentuates J's feelings about it all more than how he's fighting to be accepted really dragged me in and held me. I thought J was just passive-aggressive at first, but it was soon revealed that he was shy and fearful of never being accepted as J the boy, not J the dyke or Jeni the girl.

But I wasn't just fascinated by J. Melissa seems like so many of people I know, the way she feigns understanding in order to turn more attention on herself, but I was relieved by the way she turned around by the end. Marcia, in her attempts to help J and offer him more option, reminds me of a trans-woman I know (whose name is Marcia!). Chanelle amused me with how steadfast she was in trying to get J to be more outgoing and himself, even with her own problems stirring in the background. But J's parents really made the stark impression on me with their lack of understanding. I don't want to say they refused to understand as they did seem to attempt it in their own ways. What struck me in particular though was that they could accept J as the dyke everyone thought she was, but not as the boy he knew he was.
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