Book Review: I Am J by Cris Beam

Ever since I was little, I have always known that I was a girl. I am definitely not a "high maintenance" type of woman, but I have an inner girly-girl that will not quit. I cannot imagine what my life would have been like had I been born in a body that did not match the gender that I felt myself to be. I think it would be devastating.

Yet, this happens to people all of the time. They grow up feeling like their insides do not match their outsides. And, in our current society, the outsides are what count. To schoolmates, teachers, parents, relatives, strangers on the street. Gender is not changeable, but fixed.

I Am J is the story of a teen who identifies as transgendered. He was born "Jennifer," but has changed his name and hos outer appearance to "J."  From the start, this story is well-written and seems to capture the inner struggles and thoughts of J. Every bit about J's thoughts and his need to be accepted as a teen boy ring true. Just as a typical teen girl might try to match her teen role models, J watches young men to model his actions and reactions. Even so, learning the postures of other men is not enough; J wants to be a man.

Even though he parents are somewhat supportive, they are not understanding J's situation completely. They think (or maybe even hope) that J is a lesbian; which is not true. J is attracted to girls, but he is a boy. He just has girl parts.

But, he may not have girl features and parts for long, if he can help it. He has heard of and researched hormone therapy, and desperately wants to turn eighteen so that he can start getting testosterone shots.

Unfortunately, he's not eighteen. And, problems at home are threatening to force J out of his family's apartment and onto the street. He has a the support of his friend Melissa, but she doesn't completely understand what he's going through. It isn't until J is away from his friends and family that he can truly transition to the man he wants to be--the young man that he is.

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As a teacher, there is nothing more difficult and wonderful than helping teens to realize their visions of who they are and who they want to become. With most teens, this process thinking about possible career paths and interests, with others the process is more laborious and deep. 

I have had the pleasure of working with a few teens who identify as transgendered. As I stated in this intro to this post, I do not know what this feels like. But, as an educator, there are lots of differences and situations that my students experience that I cannot identify with. Even though I cannot identify with the feelings and emotions of these students, I do have a responsibility to help them to find a safe place within our school where they will feel comfortable and a post-secondary experience that will allow them to transition to the next phase of their life comfortably. 

This book will find a welcome space on my classroom shelves. I can only imagine the comfort that it could bring to a transgender teen to know that they are not alone--that there are others like them who might share similar feelings, thoughts, worries. Or, this book could open the mind of many non-transgender teens, those who don't know what it feels like to go through this transition. Either way, I am happy to have read this book and cannot recommend it enough. It is a must-have for classrooms and a should-have for others interested in learning more about this topic, or in reading a good book. Because, in the end, that's exactly what it is.

This book will be released on March 1st. Check back later in March for an interview with one of the characters.  Thanks to Teen Book Scene for planning this tour!