Beam, Cris. “I Am J”, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011.
Who He Really Is
J never felt like the other guys and he was certain that sooner or later everyone would understand who he really was: a boy who had been mistakenly born as a girl. However, as he grew up, his body began to betray him and he stopped praying to wake up a “real boy” and started covering up his body, keeping himself invisible — from his parents, from his friends, from the world. But after his best friend deserted him, He decided that he was through with hiding and the time had come to be who he really is. He is determined to see this through. He was born as Jennifer but always thought that he was a boy inside a girl’s body. When he was in elementary school he refused his mother’s dressing him in dresses and instead chose the clothes that boys wear. His mother is Puerto Rican and his father is Jewish and they want him to think about the future. They want him to one day get married and have a family but this is not what he wants at all. He knows that others do not understand him and he is misunderstood and anxious about what the future will bring. After he argues with his best friend, he is alone and the time has come for him to break out, he feels and he begins classes at a school for queer and transgender kids.
He cannot seem to connect with anyone because he has to act one way and feel another way. He is tired of hiding in clothes and decides to explore testosterone treatments and thus he begins on a journey that will test him and his patience, his maturity, and his commitment. J is a complex, conflicted character whose emotional journey will resonate long after the book is done. This is an inspiring novel about deciding to lead the life one is meant to—regardless of cost.
It took him running away from home and enrolling in a special school for gay and transgender teens to realize that the time had come to act. He even finds a girlfriend, Blue, a straight female artist who believes J is a boy and to whom he must eventually confess the truth. It took until he was 18 to begin getting testosterone 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.
In J, Chris Beam has created a vivid character. The story is narrated in the third person and it is based in reality and fascinating to read. J is not a very likeable character but then he has a lot going on. This is a moving look at a teenager’s gender transition and coming of age. His family does not understand what is going on with him but they want to remain close. J struggles just to be and it is to author Beam’s credit that she created such a character—someone we love to hate until we understand more of what is going on. His character advances realistically with each event he goes through and every battle is like the battles that other transkids at school still play. His internal battles become more and more real and we see that in his external appearance. Reading this gave me a better understanding of the trans world and I know I will be using it as a reference from now on.