Summary and book reviews of She's Not There by Jennifer Finney Boylan

She's Not There

A Life In Two Genders

by Jennifer Finney Boylan

She's Not There
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jul 2003, 320 pages
    Aug 2004, 320 pages

  • Rate this book

Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

The exuberant memoir of a man named James who became a woman named Jenny.

She’s Not There is the story of a person changing genders, the story of a person bearing and finally revealing a complex secret; above all, it is a love story.

By turns funny and deeply moving, Jennifer Finney Boylan explores the remarkable territory that lies between men and women, examines changing friendships, and rejoices in the redeeming power of family. She’s Not There is a portrait of a loving marriage—the love of James for his wife, Grace, and, against all odds, the enduring love of Grace for the woman who becomes her "sister," Jenny.

To this extraordinary true story, Boylan brings the humorous, fresh voice that won her accolades as one of the best comic novelists of her generation. With her distinctive and winning perspective, She’s Not There explores the dramatic outward changes and unexpected results of life as a woman: Jenny fights the urge to eat salad, while James consumed plates of ribs; gone is the stability of  "one damn mood, all the damn time."
While Boylan’s own secret was unusual, to say the least, she captures the universal sense of feeling uncomfortable, out of sorts with the world, and misunderstood by her peers. Jenny is supported on her journey by her best friend, novelist Richard Russo, who goes from begging his friend to "Be a man" (in every sense of the word) to accepting her as an attractive, buoyant woman. "The most unexpected thing," Russo writes in his Afterword to the book, "is in how Jenny’s story we recognize our shared humanity."
As James evolves into Jennifer in scenes that are by turns tender, startling, and witty, a marvelously human perspective emerges on issues of love, sex, and the fascinating relationship between our physical and our intuitive selves. Through the clear eyes of a truly remarkable woman, She’s Not There provides a new window on the often confounding process of accepting ourselves.

Mr. Fun Hog
(December 2001)

There they were, two young women standing by the side of the road with their thumbs out. They weren't warmly dressed, considering that it was December, in Maine. One of them had green hair. They looked to me as if they were in trouble, or about to be. I pulled over, thinking, better me than someone else. The world was full of characters.

"Can you take us to Augusta, ma'am? The Middle Road?" said the one whose hair was not green.

"Yes, of course, I'm going right past there," I said. "Climb in."

Soon they were in the car and we were driving west. The smell of pot wafted from the women, and I thought about the fact that my purse was on the floor in the back next to Green Hair.

"Wow, lady," said the girl next to me, looking at all the equipment in the minivan. "You sure have a lot of stuff. What is that, a guitar?"

"Synthesizer," I said. "I was playing at a Christmas party at the Samoset Resort last night. I was sitting in with ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Do you feel that Boylan had a choice in becoming a woman to the world?

  2. What responsibility does Jenny have for Grace and their children? What responsibility do they have to her?

  3. Have you ever known someone who made a gender transition? How did the change affect people who knew the person before?

  4. How central a role do you believe gender plays in our identity? How much different and in what ways do you believe you'd be if you were a member of the opposite sex? Do you think that some traits are inherent in one gender?

  5. Discuss Boylan’s experiences buying a car and buying a pair of jeans. Have you witnessed or experienced similar situations? Do you notice the differences ...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!


Media Reviews

The New York Times - Janet Maslin

Although this story is by no means pain-free (one friend commits suicide), Ms. Boylan places her emphasis elsewhere. What she accomplishes, most entertainingly, is to draw the reader into extremely strange circumstances as if they were utterly normal. It's easy to feel, as Mr. Russo apparently did, when being told by his friend's doctor that sexual reassignment surgery and novel writing require similar precision.

Publishers Weekly

Boylan may be choosing to accentuate the positive, but this leaves the story feeling incomplete, which is odd given the book's striving to feel whole.

Library Journal

Often humorous and illustrative and always enjoyable and enriching without being preachy, Boylan selflessly offers the reader all the painful details of her life as sacrifice for a better appreciation of what it means to be transsexual in today's world. Recommended for all libraries and special collections.

Kirkus Reviews

The limpid, soul-rich story of novelist James Boylan becoming Jennifer Boylan....Serious, real, funny. Told so disarmingly that it's strong enough to de-fang a taboo.

Author Blurb Haven Kimmel, author of A Girl Named Zippy
In addition to being a complete delight, this book should make us all question what we mean when we use the words love, marriage, and friendship. Jennifer Finney Boylan is a great gift to womanhood.

Author Blurb Augusten Burroughs, author of Running With Scissors
Beautifully crafted, fearless, painfully honest, inspiring and extremely witty. Jennifer Finney Boylan is an exquisite writer with a fascinating story and this combination has resulted in one of the most remarkable, moving and unforgettable memoirs in recent history.

Reader Reviews

Fiona Clancy

I really enjoyed this book and how it with its positive energy it takes you through the painful experience of transexuality.

This is a book of hope. It is somebodies actual life being told. You are left feeling you know the author, that you are old ...   Read More


James/Jennifer begins telling the story in one role and finishes in quite another. He has amanged to walk the tight rope of maintaining her family and career while changing both his/her basic identity and physical ability.
It is truly...   Read More


While over all the book was well written and highly interesting, I would have liked to have heard more from
her family. I was left with the feeling that the concerns of others and how they felt were not really of importance.
Realizing that the whole ...   Read More

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!


Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked She's Not There, try these:

  • I Am J jacket

    I Am J

    by Cris Beam

    Published 2012

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    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.

  • Annabel jacket


    by Kathleen Winter

    Published 2011

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    Award-winning Canadian author Kathleen Winter’s Annabel is a stunning debut novel about the family of a mixed-gendered child born into a rural hunting community in the 1960s.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member

Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Crossing the Horizon
    Crossing the Horizon
    by Laurie Notaro
    In Crossing the Horizon, Laurie Notaro takes us back to a time when flying was a rare and risky ...
  • Book Jacket
    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano
    Munich matron and self-described worldly sophisticate, Isolde Oberreiter, has decided to retire to a...
  • Book Jacket: Of Arms and Artists
    Of Arms and Artists
    by Paul Staiti
    In the late eighteenth-century, the United States of America was still an emerging country, ...
Book Discussions
Book Jacket
The Bone Tree
by Greg Iles

An epic trilogy of blood and race, family and justice.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Comet Seekers
    by Helen Sedgwick

    A magical, intoxicating debut novel, both intimate and epic.

    Read Member Reviews

Win this book!
Win The World of Poldark

Win the book & DVD

Enter to win The World of Poldark and the full first series on DVD.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One S D N M A S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.


Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!

Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.