[Book Review] I Am J by Cris Beam


This is an old review, though I still feel the same about it now as I did then.

*This book was also used in a booktalk for class.

I Am J by Cris Beam • 2011 • Little, Brown Books for Young Readers • 352 pages

“A wonderful addition to the few novels that have dared to tackle a subject that has long lived in the cultural margins. . .a tender, surprisingly relatable story.”

The Los Angeles Times

Genre/Theme: Identity, Gender, Gender Identity, Transgender, Trans Teens, Isolation, Acceptance, Bullying, Self-Discovery, FtM

Brief Summary: This book tells of the young J, a transgendered boy and the struggles he faces as he learns to love himself and become the person he knows himself to be.

Evaluation: 3.75 of 5 stars

1-2 things you liked:

  • That it WASN’T in first person. I feel as though in today’s YA novels, especially the fiction, there is too much first person narrative – namely because it seems the “cool” thing to do, supposedly making the character’s story more personable and relatable to the reader. To me, it seems like such a cop-out. Yes, in some books, it really does draw the reader in, but too often, the author uses the first person narrative to “get away” with not writing decent narration, exposition, character development and individualized characters thoughts. The fact that this book was in third person really helped me see J as a person, not putting me into J’s shoes by using the allegation of “I did this” or “I did that”.
  • J, in general, as a character. He was flawed. He wasn’t perfect. I loved that. I don’t want some perfect transperson who — of course — acts so respectfully of everything and everyone around them. I wanted someone who was a little bit of what we don’t expect. Someone who we might even roll our eyes at and say, “What even, man? Really? You gotta be that way?” J was that person. J felt real to me, and I felt everything J went through in this book without feeling like everything was a pity-party or that the author was trying to preach to me to be accepting and understand J’s situation. J was an ass at times. And he felt sorry for himself at others. And sometimes I hated him. But that was great.
  • That he was Jewish AND Puerto Rican. You really don’t see that sort of combination in books, YA or otherwise. So… diversity! WOO-HOO! 🙂

1-2 things you didn’t like:

  • The aggressive amount of misogyny and homophobia infused in J. Like I said, I love that he wasn’t perfect. But sometimes this was a little excessive. I mean, I can understand where this guy is coming from. Honestly I can. I went through my own period of hating women (I realized later that I just hated everyone, though at the time women were really doing a job pissing me off right and left. 😀 Now though, I can classify myself — with utmost certainty — as an unbiased misanthrope instead of a total misogynist. Hey hey! XD ) J, on the otherhand, held fast to the fact that it’s totally OK to be a dick! Because, “Hey! I’m going through shit and this is a sure-fire way to be a MAN.”

    Yeah, no. Only complete dicks — regardless of gender — act that way. So, y’know, it’s a little irritating to say the least.

Would you recommend this book?: Probably.

Looking Back (Current Thoughts & Eval): For the target age (which is 9 and Up) I think the book might have been a little too graphic in terms of content. Granted, I remember reading books 9000x more graphic, gory, and explicit than this book when I was 9. And even younger. Then again… I was always a little weird. XD Either way, it would depend on the individual, I think. Personally, I think this book’s a little more suited for those a bit older, but hey! Hopefully there are more people out there like me when I was that age and can (1) actually understand the content and material, and (2) not be too freaked out by things like [SPOILER ALERT!! PLEASE HIGHLIGHT]a transgendered boy getting and/or talking about getting their breasts cut off[END SPOILER].

I still believe this book to be a wonderful read (even with J being a really depressing little shit) and definitely enlightening for those going through similar situations, thinking about taking the life-changing process of sex-change surgery, or those who have friends, family, or children that feel they were born into the wrong body or assigned the wrong gender as babies. It also peaks into the mind of a person questioning gender identity, and tackling gender norms and stereotypes, even if they don’t really come to the most accepted conclusion about it.

Normally, I don’t read many trans-themed books (at least not knowingly) but this one really caught my attention and held it from front to back. This book is certainly not for everyone, but I would still recommend it to anyone looking for something poignant, memorable, and glimpsing into the life of someone quite different (or startling similar) to themselves.