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I'm Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted: A Memoir by [Boylan, Jennifer Finney]
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Boylan, an English professor, novelist and memoirist (She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders), tells of growing up in a haunted house in Pennsylvania, where phantom footfalls and spectral mists were practically commonplace. This was a fitting-enough setting for young Boylan, then a boy who longed to become a girl. Back then I knew very little for certain about whatever it was that afflicted me, she writes. [I]n order to survive, I'd have to become something like a ghost myself, and keep the nature of my true self hidden. In 2006, years after her sex change, Boylan returned to her childhood home with a band of local ghostbusters as she struggled to reconcile with her past as James Boylan, as well as her memories of family members she'd loved and lost there. This memoir is better suited for those interested in broader human truths than in fact (a disclaimer in the author's note explains that she's taken liberties in service of the story); readers in the former category are in for a treat. Boylan writes with a measured comedic timing and a light touch, affecting a pitch-perfect balance between sorrow, skepticism and humor. In spite of the singularity of Boylan's circumstance, the coming-of-age story has far-reaching resonance: estrangement in one's own home, alienation in one's own skin and the curious ways that men and women come to know themselves and one another. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—Boylan's follow-up to She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders (Broadway, 2003) is a richly portrayed-and often laugh-out-loud funny-memoir of her youth. The author was a teen in the 1970s, living in a quaint old house in Philadelphia's Main Line. Her family, home, and boyhood share equally in this tale. Until a decade ago, Boylan was male, but as a youth she was coming to terms with the fact that she longed to have a body that matched her feminine identity. Instead, she was named Jim, escaped some social awkwardness by playing piano to the thrill of almost any crowd, and adored her older sister Lydia, the only character here who, years later, can't accept the departure of Jim for the arrival of Jennifer. Combining incisive memories of events as they may or may not have happened with compelling emotions that must be true, Boylan takes readers through family losses (the death of Lydia's horse), mysteries (the footsteps overheard in the old house's attic), comedies (finding himself trapped in that same attic in his sister's wedding dress), embarrassments (his drunk and irrepressible grandmother on the eve of Lydia's wedding), and thoughtful excursions (the responses of Jim's spouse and children to his transgendering). Teens who dote on family stories, as well as those who wonder what life might be like if you could change and still look back at what you had been with a large degree of comfort, will find much to delight in here.—Francisca Goldsmith, Halifax Public Libraries, Nova Scotia
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1190 KB
  • Print Length: 290 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (January 15, 2008)
  • Publication Date: January 15, 2008
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0011UGM46
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #604,426 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
A quick glance of Jennifer Finney Boylan's latest memoir, I'M LOOKING THROUGH YOU, would give the impression that the book focuses on growing up in a haunted house. But a closer look reveals, as the subtitle states, that it is about "growing up haunted." This is an important distinction.

Boylan did live for many years in a house, aptly named the "Coffin House" after the family who built it, that she took to be haunted. Her family moved there in 1972, just as she was entering her teenage years. On her first visit she received a big electrical shock, followed by another surprise: she was to sleep in a spooky third floor bedroom while the rest of her family would get their shut-eye on the floor below. From that first day exploring her new home, Boylan felt the presence of ghosts, and her nights there were full of disembodied footsteps and floating specters. As her story unfolds, it becomes more complex and nuanced. She moves readers back and forth in time, telling stories of the Coffin House, her adventures with "ghostbusters" later in life, and, most especially, her personal hauntings.

As she wrote in her earlier bestselling memoir, SHE'S NOT THERE, Boylan was born "James" but always knew herself to be "Jenny." It wasn't until after she was grown, a college English professor married with two sons of her own, that she came out as transgendered and began the process of becoming a woman physically. Her time in the Coffin House coincided with her teenage years, and she relates her frustration and uncertainty with honesty and grace. "Back then," she writes, "I knew very little for certain about whatever it was that afflicted me, but I did know this much: that in order to survive, I'd have to become something like a ghost myself, and keep the nature of my true self hidden.
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Format: Hardcover
At first glance I'm Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted: A Memoir seems to be about growing up in a haunted house, but it's much more than that. Author Jennifer Finney Boylan uses the near-translucent spirits inhabiting her family home as a metaphor for her dissociated youth. She spent her first 40 years as James Boylan, the boy's and man's body a bad fit for her soul.

The Boylan family moved to the aptly named "Coffin House" on Philadelphia's Main Line, and at once young James began to observe ghostly shapes drifting through the rooms. Through the teen years and in later visits as a young adult, alienated by feelings that "James" was meant to be "Jenny," the author continued to experience the ghosts. In more recent years, after transgender surgery turned James into Jenny at last, she visited the house with a "ghostbusting" team and came to a better understanding of the strange presence and what it was foreshadowing to the boy, near-translucent himself.

This memoir follows the theme of author Boylan's earlier book She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders, expanding on her life with a full cast of eccentric extended family members and friends. Boylan's humor has a dark cast; she deflects her serious moods with lightning-quick turnarounds, yet the reader never doubts her seriousness. The book is full of music and cultural references that at times are the only tethers holding Jenny/James in the real world.

Parent and partner, professor, friend, musician, daughter, sister -- some of Boylan's relationships have thrived and some suffered.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had never heard of Jennifer Finney Boylan before I saw this book advertised, but I was drawn to it by the subtitle: Growing Up Haunted. We all live with memories of our past and from our family's pasts, and its interesting to see how others deal with their "hauntedness." Jennifer was born James Boylan, a child who felt "transparent" and "not there" through his childhood. Eventually, James recognized that he was trans-gendered, and succeeded in becoming a "solider" person as Jennifer. Before that transition she had a lively childhood in a house which had some weird spectres or "ghosts" along with a real living family of eccentrics.

Jennifer's story is interesting on several levels, both sad and amusing. She writes well and wittily and conveys a good impression of life in a haunted house as well as what it was like to grow up in a family which, while not wealthy, was part of Philadelphia's Main Line society.
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Format: Paperback
"Studied, mannered, and implausible", Richard Russo says of Jennifer Boylan in the pages of this memoir. I believe that quote much more than the blurb Russo put on the cover, extolling "I'm Looking Through You" as "one of the finest literary memoirs...", on a par with Mary Karr's books.

No way. This book isn't remotely in the same league as Mary Karr. I've read "Liar's Club". "I'm Looking Through You" is fairly entertaining, but I really couldn't take it seriously. The word that comes to mind is "fluff".

Jennifer Boylan, as she regularly reminds her readers, is clever and well-connected. She's been on "Oprah". She can play classical music pieces backwards, in ragtime.

As a writer, she is wonderful adept at pushing the readers' buttons...but they aren't always the right buttons. She's whipped up a light, frothy cafe au lait of a book, and stuffed it full of comforts for the boomer generation. There is a threnody running through it about ghosts. But Jennifer doesn't know whether she believes in ghosts. But, since its a theme of the book, she regularly returns to it.... time to talk about those ghosts again, and she hears a few more creaks in the steps.

It really seems that all Boylan cares about is whether her readers are entertained. Did she do enough song and dance, did you smile or cringe at her silly jokes?

Was I entertained? Yes, I have to admit I was. Was I satisfied that I had spent time with a book of substance? No, sadly,I wasn't.
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