Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I Am J ~ Cris Beam review

I Am J
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
March 1, 2011
352 pages


It's the name that stops J cold. The name he's trying to escape.

J was wrongly born a girl.

Now a teenager and betrayed by his body, J's quit wishing he would wake up and truly be a boy, be male. Now he covers up with extra shirt and baggy clothes.

He's trying to be J. But some people keep calling him Jeni.

But when his best friend does something he never expected, he decides it's time to stop hoping and time to start acting. No matter the cost, he's going to truly become J once and for all.

The best thing about this book is that you become so connected with J and his struggle that you forget whether J was born a boy or a girl--when there's mention of J's first communion necklace from her grandmother, the reader thinks, "Wow, that's a forwarding thinking or really understanding grandmother--oh, wait!"

It's less a confusion for the reader (though it is a confusion) and more a testament to how easy it is to relate to a character that on the surface you might think it would be hard to relate to (a transgender teen).

J's journey to make himself a 'real boy'--and not just one who wears multiple t-shirts and keeps his head down so people won't see he's having to pretend for now--introduce him to so many people, situations and places. The journey never feels contrived or like parts of it are happening just to show readers how something is for transgender teens if x, y, or z happens, it all fits together. But I Am J is educational--informative--at the same time.

This might not be a topic a lot of people in the target audience (or outside of it) would read a nonfiction book on, but reading this novel you still get a sense of the hardships and you still come away caring more than you did before you read it.

All of that is not at all to say that I Am J is not still a very enjoyable novel to read. It has characters that draw you in, relationships that are real and complex, and dramas (not drama queen dramas, but real life dramas) that keep you reading through to the end.

I requested this book (when offered) after seeing a segment on this episode of 20/20 (very different from the book but it piqued my interest), I hope maybe you'll read it after reading some reviews :)


Huge thank you to Sara (and Ames) at Little Brown for this book for review :)

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