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Review: I am J (Cris Beam)

Title: I am J
Author: Cris Beam
Genre: YA fiction
Pages: 326
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library
Summary (from the inside flap of the book): J had always felt different. He was certain that eventually everyone would understand who he really was: a boy mistakenly born as a girl. Yet as he grew up, his body began to betray him; eventually J stopped praying to wake up a "real boy" and started covering up his body, keeping himself invisible--from his family, from his friends... from the world. But after being deserted by the best friend he thought would always be by his side, J decides that he's done hiding--it's time to be who he really is. And this time he is determined not to give up, no matter the cost.

Review: This book is so good because it is accessible, honest, raw, and covers a topic that isn't in a lot of YA books: transgender teens. In a heart-felt letter to the reader at the end of the book we learn that the author taught English at a high school for LGBTQ youth for a few years and took in one of her students as a foster child. I point this out to show that Cris Beam has a good sense for what life is like for transgender teens and their families and that shows in this novel.

J was born a girl but has always felt like a boy. He doens't really have the words or the maturity to know how to deal with all of that. His family certainly isn't helping and the bullying he endures at school is unbearable. The teen years are so difficult for most of us, I cannot imagine being on the outside the way J is. He isn't sure how to act, whom he can tell, or really what to do about it all. He is defensive when people call him gay, doesn't know which bathroom to use in public, and wears lots of clothing to hide his curves.

Not until J runs away and connects with the greater transgender community does he really start to understand who he is, what he wants, and how to make it all happen. I think finding a supportive community is so important for all teens, but especially teens who are different from their mainstream peers. I also liked that J had his art (photography) with which he could express himself.

Beam does a good job of showing the emotions invovled in this subject matter from many perspectives: J's; his friends'; a girl he likes; his family; and others. This is important because the way we feel, the decisions we make, and how we behave do not take place in a vaccum, but they influence and impact those around us. This book does that well. I also liked that Beam didn't make J all likable. There were moments when I got mad at J, felt sorry for him, liked him, sympathized with him, and wanted to help him. That's reality and very real.
    Geography Connection:

    Click to see my updated Google Map. New York City is again the setting for a book I've read. It seems like such an easy place to locate a YA book since everyone's heard of it, a character can get lost amongst the millions of people, and the city is big enough that the author doesn't have to be too specific about exact locations. Hey, it works for me!


    Anonymous said...

    I have this and look forward to reading it. I read Luna a while ago, also about transgender issues and really enjoyed it. It opened my eyes to some of the realities of being transgendered. This is the stuff that makes YA so good to read!

    Helen's Book Blog said...

    Campbele--I haven't read Luna so will add it to my "buy it for the library" list. Thank you for the recommendation

    Athira said...

    I'm glad to see you rate this high. It's on my wishlist since I first heard of it. It sounds really wonderful!

    Helen's Book Blog said...

    Aths--I do think Cris Beam knows her stuff and she did a great job of explaining it through her characters

    Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

    Wow... what an interesting and hard topic. I just checked out your map - you read more out of the US than I do! :)

    I too have found that many books are centered around New York.... I am finding that just as interesting on the WHERE Are You reading Map, some areas are used a lot in books.

    Helen's Book Blog said...

    Sheila--It is a topic that isn't covered much in YA (or adult) so it's nice to know there is a good book on it out there. I am LOVING the map aspect of book blogging

    Stevie Carroll said...

    That one's gone straight on my WishList.

    Helen's Book Blog said...

    Stevie--Don't you just love it when you read someone's review and know you'll like the book? I hope you enjoy I am J