Reading guide for I Am J by Cris Beam

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I Am J

By Cris Beam

I Am J
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2011,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Nov 2012,
    352 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Cindy Anderson

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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Discussion Questions

  1. Describe J. What makes him a dynamic character? Is he the type of person you would want to befriend? Why or why not?
  2. How would you describe J's family? Are they in any way similar to your own? If so, in what ways?
  3. In I Am J, fear both motivates and incapacitates J. Consider how he deals with his fears. In what ways does he acknowledge them? Is he able to turn to others for help? What are the consequences of his reactions?
  4. What are your earliest impressions of J's best friend, Melissa? Do you find her to be a good friend? Using textual examples, support your position.
  5. How would you characterize the relationship between J and Melissa, and how does it change over the course of the novel?
  6. Explain the significance of the title, I Am J. In what ways does it accurately describe the events and relationships portrayed in the novel?
  7. After being attacked on the subway, J vows to become a "genuine freak." Coupled with the constant misunderstandings of his sexuality, how does this experience serve as a catalyst that drives J to reinvent himself?
  8. J's mother tells him, "You can learn to love the life you're handed." Do you agree with her assessment? Why or why not?
  9. In what ways is J's life similar to Melissa's? How are they different? What are some of the unique challenges faced by each of them? Do you think one has a significantly easier life? Explain your answer.
  10. J uses his photography to help make Melissa better understand him. Consider the photograph he stages to share with her; how is this image symbolic of who he is?
  11. Compare the parent/child relationships in the story: J and his mother, J and his father, and Melissa and her mother. To what extent are the relationships of these characters shaped by the world around them? To what extent do their relationships shape that world?
  12. After a relaxed portrait session with his parents, J thinks, "I want to remember them like this." To what extent do you think J understands how the bond between he and his parents will be changed?
  13. In your opinion, does J's new school provide him the support he needs? What are the advantages and disadvantages to attending a nontraditional school?
  14. Describe J's relationship with Blue; in what ways are his actions "typical" of a player in a high school romance? What does he ultimately learn from this failed relationship?
  15. Throughout the novel, readers witness the complexities of the various relationships among the characters. Consider whose relationship seemed most similar to one of your own personal relationships. What about it reminded you of your experiences?
  16. Consider the novel's cover. In what ways is the image symbolic of the events that transpire throughout the course of the book?
  17. Blue tells J, "You've probably never wanted to be anything different than what you are." Given that readers fully understand the irony of her statement, why might Blue have such an opinion of J?
  18. J's obsession with getting on "T" is indicative of his emotional state; do you think he will be satisfied in the end? Why or why not?
  19. Consider Melissa's dancing, Blue's painting, and Jay's photography. What role does art play in the lives of each of these characters? In what ways does it allow them to express their vision of their world?
  20. Using the phrase, "This is a story about…" supply five words to describe I Am J. Explain your choices.


Click for a PDF of the full educator's guide including a list of resources

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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