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I Am J    by Cris Beam Amazon.com order for
I Am J
by Cris Beam
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2011 (2011)
Hardcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

Many YA novels tackle tough issues that teens face - topics that range from first lovers and break-ups to the more emotional divorce or death of a loved one. And some face more difficult issues head-on issues such as drugs, alcohol, teen pregnancy, suicide. While more and more YA books are cropping up that focus on teens coming to terms with their own sexuality, I Am J is the first I have ever seen for teens with a main character who is transgendered. At its core, though, Cris Beam has written a story that any teen can relate to figuring out who you really are.

Growing up, J Silver always knew something was wrong. Not with him, but with other people. Everyone called him a girl when he knew he was a boy. It was not until he got older that he learned that, physically, he was a girl. But J knows he is a boy, and wants the whole world to know too. In order to succeed, he has to look and act the part of a boy. But to do so, he feels he has to keep it a secret. Everyone from his life, his parents and best friend included, think he is a lesbian, so J becomes determined to start a new life. First, he begins skipping school, binding his chest, and going to the Village where he meets a girl. When his parents find out about his missing school, he tries to run away. He eventually winds up at a hostel for GLBT youth where he discovers there is a high school for others like him. For once, J realizes he is not in this alone, but he still has a long way to go to become the man he wants to be.

The beginning of I Am J is very melancholy, and I found myself disliking J's choices and wanting to scream at him. Very rarely does a character elicit this type of response from me. I also felt very distanced from him, especially since his life was almost the complete opposite of mine. As the story progressed, though, I began to see J more as a real person than a character in a book, and began to see more of the teenagers I know, as well as some of myself in him. It was at this point that I realized why it was written in third person instead of first person as the title would suggest: J is a modern Everyman (or maybe Everyteen would be more accurate). Beam did an amazing job in creating such a complex, unique, yet universal character.

As I was reading I Am J, I was reminded of a non-fiction piece I reviewed a few years ago called Transparent, which was about transgirls in LA. I Am J was very similar except it was fictional, the main character was a transboy, and it took place in NYC. It was not until I read the Author's Note at the end that I realized that the same person wrote both. It states that Beam wanted to bring the world of transguys to light in a form geared towards teens and I Am J does exactly that.

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