I Am J by Cris Beam

Book Info
I Am J by Cris Beam
©2011 Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY
ISBN 978-0316053617

Plot Summary
J was born Jennifer, but has known since he was very small that he is in fact a boy and that his female body was just a huge mistake. At the age of seventeen, most teenagers are struggling to find their identity and place in the world, but who are you if you feel 100% male while having a body that defies this physically? J is finally at a point where he thinks he can articulate these feelings and figure out ways to make the real and physical transition into J, but not everyone is ready to accept the real him, especially his family and former best friend. When he starts a new school and meets more transgendered people with whom he can relate, J finds a new family of sorts, and even love. J’s path to self discovery and acceptance is a treacherous one, but a beautiful story and lesson for us all.

Reader’s Annotation
He may have been born Jennifer and possess some physically female characteristics, but inside he has always been, and always will be J. At seventeen, J is finally ready for his exterior to match the interior, but the road to self discovery and acceptance is a rough one.

Critical Evaluation
No one blinks an eye with Pinocchio wants to be a “real boy,” but Cris Beam’s character J, who was born female but identifies as a male, is met with anger, hatred, disbelief and a struggle for acceptance by his family and friends. Not only is J transgender, but biracial with a Puerto Rican mother and a Jewish father which adds extra layers of difficulty to J’s story in an effort to fight the male “machismo” that is apparent in many Latin cultures. With such a complex scenario Beam has developed, at times it seems as if she is trying too hard to cover all of the things a transgendered teen might feel or experience, without leaving anything out. This can make things feel very dense and mechanical at times. Aside from this, the book is well-written and teaches some valuable lessons through a moving story.

Information about the Author
Cris Beam is an author and professor in New York City. She is the author of Transparent, a nonfiction book that covers seven years in the lives of four transgender teenagers, which won the Lambda Literary Award for best transgender book in 2008, and was a Stonewall Honor book.

Her young adult novel, I am J, was released by Little, Brown in March 2011, and a nonfiction book about the state of foster care in the U.S. will be released by Houghton Mifflin-Harcourt in 2012. She teaches creative writing at Columbia University, New York University, The New School, and Bayview Women’s Correctional Facility. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Columbia University.

Realistic Fiction, LGBT

Curriculum Ties
Sociology, Gender issues

Booktalking Ideas
Discuss what it would be like to not feel as if you were able to truly be yourself in public because of how people might react.

Discuss J’s relationship with his parents and how it changes through the book.

Reading Level/ Interest Age

Challenge Issues

  • LGBT themes
  • Sexual identity
  • Sexuality

Defense options

  • Be aware of your library’s collection development policy.
  • Be familiar with the material in question, and the context of the questionable content.
  • Assert the principles of the ALA Library Bill of Rights, and standards of intellectual freedom.
  • Consult online book reviews, and others who have read the book.
    • Defend by explaining that whether it is agreed with, homosexuality and transgendered persons exist and should have resources available in the library for them and those who support them.

Why Included?
I came across I Am J while looking through the YALSA 2011 Teen’s Top Ten nominees. After reading a few reviews, I decided to add it to my list of things to read for the blog project.


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