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31 Days of Teen’s Top 10: Book Review: I am J by Cris Beam

Teens’ Top Ten” is a “teen choice” list, where teens nominate and choose their favorite books of the previous year! Nominators are members of teen book groups in fifteen school and public libraries around the country. Nominations are posted on Support Teen Literature
Day during National Library Week, and teens across the country vote on their favorite titles each year. Each day during the month of May, The Hub will feature a post about Teens’ Top Ten. Be sure to check in daily as we visit past winners and current nominees!

It is no wonder I am J is a teen’s choice. Our teens know good literature and a true voice when they read one. I normally review graphic novels for The Hub and feel positively elated that I chose I am J for May’s special post.

J is your everyday teenager, half Puerto Rican, half Jewish, coming of age in New York City. Struggling with the choices he must make about his future, finding love, and establishing a grown-up relationship with his parents. Oh yeah, on top of all this, J was born Jeni, and while most people assume he is a lesbian, J knows he is man.

When J discovers the word transgender and the possibility of living his life as a man, everything else takes the backseat as he begins his quest to live his life truthfully. J’s journey takes him away from his parents, his best friend, and his high school. As he becomes more comfortable with this identity, he realizes that he must share it with everyone in his life. Trying to make others understand something he has just learned himself is a challenge that breaks and builds his resolve.

“He, J-yes-he, that glorious pronoun, he had been J on a new corner, in a new Starbucks, with a new name and a new body but the selfsame soul, talking-actually talking-to other people who believed he was a boy.”

It is hard to believe that this is Cris Beam’s first novel. Beam is involved with the trans community and has written the non-fiction work Transparent about the lives of transgender teenagers and has a foster child who influenced the character of J. Beam wanted to write a book that spoke to teens and not at them. It is not only J’s voice that keeps the book afloat, but also this poetically told story that will keep the reader turning the pages. Wondering at each turn, what will happen to J?
J gives a voice to a population seldom featured in YA literature, a pure voice that any reader can identify with. J is not only transgender, but also an adolescent facing all the obstacles that come with his age. His fights with his parents are real, his discussions with his best friend Melissa are real, and his burgeoning first love with Blue is real.

-Marie Penny, currently reading Marvel Her-oes

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One Comment

  1. David David

    Just read I Am J a couple of weeks ago, and it’s a very good read. The tone is a bit didactic, especially for someone who is already familiar with transgender issues, but for teens and those who know little about everything surrounding transgendered individuals, I’d imagine it would be a very informative book, with the voice pretty relatable.

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