Summary and book reviews of I Am J by Cris Beam

I Am J

By Cris Beam

I Am J
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Mar 2011,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Nov 2012,
    352 pages.

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Book Summary

"Hola, Jeni."

J spun. His stomach clenched hard, as though he'd been hit. It was just the neighbor lady, Mercedes. J couldn't muster a hello back, not now; he didn't care that she'd tell his mom he'd been rude. She should know better. Nobody calls me Jeni anymore.

J always felt different. He was certain that eventually everyone would understand who he really was: a boy mistakenly born as a girl. Yet as he grew up, his body began to betray him; eventually J stopped praying to wake up a "real boy" and started covering up his body, keeping himself invisible - from his family, from his friends...from the world. But after being deserted by the best friend he thought would always be by his side, J decides that he's done hiding - it's time to be who he really is. And this time he is determined not to give up, no matter the cost.

An inspiring story of self-discovery, of choosing to stand up for yourself, and of finding your own path - readers will recognize a part of themselves in J's struggle to love his true self.

"J! We've made real progress!" Deane said, tugging on J's sweatshirt and dragging him into the Alchemist's classroom. J had come to school early because the Alchemists had texted him an "848" message—the US penal code for "continuing criminal enterprise," —essentially, running a drug ring. Deane was one of the heads of the six Alchemists, seventeen and pimply, with a shock of black hair that stuck straight up like a hedgehog. He was the one who researched poppy plants and the least accessible land routes in Afghanistan, carefully calculating where opium was likely to be grown and distributed. With the Alchemists' ad hoc supercomputer, they had created a high-resolution map of the country, dividing it into multiple square kilometer cells, and analyzing each one for potential plant production, weather patterns, and news of trafficking and arrests, so they could determine where the opium was probably growing, and who was doing the selling. It was ...

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 ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Chris Beam's poignant novel about a teenager's struggle for identity, approval, and self-acceptance is a welcome addition to the relatively small genre of novels featuring a transgender youth as the main character. Her story of events during several months in the life of 17-year-old J - female by birth, but with the unquestionable knowledge that his body should have been male - fictionalizes many of the trials faced by real young people who are already navigating the social quagmire of high school, the angst and rebellion of the teenage years, and who must also deal with the confusion and isolation of knowing that their physical gender and gender identity do not match. Without lecturing, criticizing, or patronizing, Beam uses the fictional J's story to, as she puts it, "portray the history, culture, and challenges in the young, urban trans community." Beam does this admirably, and although she proves to be more skilled as an advocate than as a storyteller, her novel still deserves recognition for its ability to call attention to an often overlooked and misunderstood segment of our young population.   (Reviewed by Cindy Anderson).

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Media Reviews
VOYA

The writing, however, bogs down the story. A more tightly written novel might have more impact.

Publishers Weekly

Readers should be absorbed by J's struggle to prove 'My gender's not a lie. I am not a lie.

School Library Journal

J is an especially vivid character, and the supporting characters are carefully drawn. Told in third person, the story is believable and effective due to insightful situations, realistic language, and convincing dialogue.

Booklist

Starred Review. Beam has written easily the best book to date about the complicated condition of being a transsexual teen, not only sharing important information that is artfully woven into the plot but also creating, in J, a multilayered, absolutely believable character whose pain readers will share. Grades 9-12.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Finally, a book about a transgender teen that gives its central character a life in which gender and transition matter but do not define his existence!

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Transgender Teens and Bullying

Teens are already subject to a lot of stress, but transgender teens face myriad additional challenges. According to PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), a majority of LGBT kids (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) are bullied and harassed in school. In fact, 74% of students polled heard the words faggot and dyke "frequently" in school, and 86% said that they have been "verbally harassed." The stress put upon kids by this type of ridicule can lead to unhealthy and self-destructive behaviors such as self-mutilation, eating disorders or suicide. A 1989 US Dept. of Health report found that LGBT youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than other young people, while a 2008 report by the Suicide ...

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