I am J
By: Chris Beam
Publisher: Little, Brown books for young readers
Publication Date: January 1st, 2011
J 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.
An inspiring story of self-discovery, of choosing to stand up for yourself, and of finding your own path – readers will recognize a part of themselves in J’s struggle to love his true self.
I genuinely struggled trying to figure out how to write about this book. I really wanted to like it, but there were several things that I really didn’t enjoy. But, that being said, this book was a valuable window into something I knew almost nothing about. And, since I am currently living in a state made infamous for anti-trans laws *cough HB2 cough*, I thought the experience of reading this, and the learning opportunities involved for me, were valuable.
Things I liked: that J was a person of color whose color did not define him. That J managed to make his own way despite a wonky, unsupportive home life and a world that felt like it was against him at every turn. That he managed to make his own family of supportive, open adults, and achieve his dreams in the way that he wanted to.
Things I found valuable: the book was written in such a way to really explore J’s transition, both personal and physical. It addressed gender dysphoria, LGBTQ+ teen homelessness, and the physical aspects of transition (Testosterone, breast surgery) in a way that was easily understandable, but also fit into J’s story. It never felt like the author was taking a break to go into an explanation of hormone therapy, which I appreciated, but it was still educational.
I also admit to appreciating the somewhat gritty realism of the book. There are a lot of hurdles that J faces, from his crush on his best friend, to jumping through the bureaucratic hoops of hormone therapy, to basically being homeless. A lot of the book was awkward and difficult, but in a way that felt kind of realistic. J is, no matter his assigned gender, an angsty teen with a little more on his place than the usual angsty teen. I understood a lot of the choices he made and the actions he took, even though I wanted to tell him ‘nope, this isn’t the right way to do things’. And I felt heartbroken for him at points, like when his friend Melissa rejected him, or when the perfectly-choreographed coming-out to his parents fell apart. But, like I said, I liked that J found his own path and followed it on his own terms.
Things I didn’t like: J’s treatment of Melissa–how when he tried to make his move, it was nonconsensual. And later, how he was not very supportive of Melissa even when she was doing her best to be supportive of him (although she sometimes didn’t do the best job of being an ally, let’s be honest). I wasn’t sure how I felt about his odd relationship with Blue. And I had real issues with J’s rampant homophobia. I also personally struggled with J’s inveterate fury at the universe and everything around him–I understood it, but that doesn’t mean that I liked it.
This isn’t a book I’ll likely reread, and it’s not necessarily one I would recommend for a pleasure read. But, that being said, I think it’s important to read books about people and experiences that are not like yours, and J’s story is an important lens to maybe understand a bit more about trans people and what they go through.
If you’re looking for more resources about trans people, teens in particular, I can recommend the book Beyond Magenta as showing more of the diversity of trans and gender-neutral experience, and having some possible resources as well.
Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.