I Am J

by Cris Beam

Paperback, 2012





Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2012), Edition: Reprint, 288 pages


J, who feels like a boy mistakenly born as a girl, runs away from his best friend who has rejected him and the parents he thinks do not understand him when he finally decides that it is time to be who he really is.

User reviews

LibraryThing member weener
I make it a point to be familiar with the LGBTQ teen literature in our collection. It started when I did a Pride Month book display a few years ago and had the books just fly off of it. I had to expand my knowledge of these books in order to keep it stocked with books about all types of sexuality and gender issues. So it's always nice to see a new book of this kind.

I Am J is about a biracial female-to-male (FTM) transgender teen. J, born "Jenifer," has always know he was really male. He's stuck in a girl's body that makes him feel sick and wrong, so he covers it up with sports bras, layers and layers of t-shirts, and tries to hide it from the world. He learns more about being transgender from an internet search, rigs himself up a chest binder, and learns about testosterone. He's so preoccupied with his feelings about his body that he starts skipping school and seeing if he can pass for male in other parts of town. He runs away from home for a time, stays at a shelter for LGBTQ teens, and enrolls at a special school affiliated with the shelter.

When his parents find him, they're not sure what to think. They might learn to be OK with him being a lesbian, but they are disgusted to learn that their little girl identifies as male. He finds some allies in his friends, neighbors, schoolmates, and strangers, and decides to go ahead with his transition by getting testosterone shots.

This was really well-written and realistic. All the characters seemed like actual, flawed humans. There were no Mary Sues or pat answers. For instance, instead of all J's problems being solved when he started hanging out with other gay people, most of the gay and gender-variant kids at his new school were pretty obnoxious. But he found a surprising ally in his nosy neighbor Mercedes, who tried to convince J's mom that being transgender wasn't anything to get upset about or even that uncommon, giving her nephew (now niece) and some trans soap opera characters as examples.

I learned a lot about what it means to be transgender from this book. For instance J was even a little homophobic. He hated being called a lesbian. He didn't want to be lumped in with gay people. It opened my eyes to the worries that trans teens have: J wants to apply for college, but what about his old name on his transcripts, single-sex dorms, shared showers? J even tries to think about what it would have been like to be trans in past eras, when children were like little adults with jobs and responsibilites.

I'm really glad we have this book in our collection because I think everyone can learn a lot from it.
… (more)
LibraryThing member readingbeader
Sadness, anger, despair, all the things J is feeling, I felt, too, while reading this book. He’s confused, not about himself, but why we don’t see what he sees. Powerful book.
LibraryThing member mrsderaps
Ever since I was little, I have always known that I was a girl. I am definitely not a "high maintenance" type of woman, but I have an inner girly-girl that will not quit. I cannot imagine what my life would have been like had I been born in a body that did not match the gender that I felt myself to be. I think it would be devastating.

Yet, this happens to people all of the time. They grow up feeling like their insides do not match their outsides. And, in our current society, the outsides are what count. To schoolmates, teachers, parents, relatives, strangers on the street. Gender is not changeable, but fixed.

I Am J is the story of a teen who identifies as transgendered. He was born "Jennifer," but has changed his name and hos outer appearance to "J." From the start, this story is well-written and seems to capture the inner struggles and thoughts of J. Every bit about J's thoughts and his need to be accepted as a teen boy ring true. Just as a typical teen girl might try to match her teen role models, J watches young men to model his actions and reactions. Even so, learning the postures of other men is not enough; J wants to be a man.

Even though he parents are somewhat supportive, they are not understanding J's situation completely. They think (or maybe even hope) that J is a lesbian; which is not true. J is attracted to girls, but he is a boy. He just has girl parts.

But, he may not have girl features and parts for long, if he can help it. He has heard of and researched hormone therapy, and desperately wants to turn eighteen so that he can start getting testosterone shots.

Unfortunately, he's not eighteen. And, problems at home are threatening to force J out of his family's apartment and onto the street. He has a the support of his friend Melissa, but she doesn't completely understand what he's going through. It isn't until J is away from his friends and family that he can truly transition to the man he wants to be--the young man that he is.

* * *

As a teacher, there is nothing more difficult and wonderful than helping teens to realize their visions of who they are and who they want to become. With most teens, this process thinking about possible career paths and interests, with others the process is more laborious and deep.

I have had the pleasure of working with a few teens who identify as transgendered. As I stated in this intro to this post, I do not know what this feels like. But, as an educator, there are lots of differences and situations that my students experience that I cannot identify with. Even though I cannot identify with the feelings and emotions of these students, I do have a responsibility to help them to find a safe place within our school where they will feel comfortable and a post-secondary experience that will allow them to transition to the next phase of their life comfortably.

This book will find a welcome space on my classroom shelves. I can only imagine the comfort that it could bring to a transgender teen to know that they are not alone--that there are others like them who might share similar feelings, thoughts, worries. Or, this book could open the mind of many non-transgender teens, those who don't know what it feels like to go through this transition. Either way, I am happy to have read this book and cannot recommend it enough. It is a must-have for classrooms and a should-have for others interested in learning more about this topic, or in reading a good book. Because, in the end, that's exactly what it is.
… (more)
LibraryThing member lawral
I was a little scared of this book. I knew that Beam had it in her to realistically portray the transgender experience, so my expectations were super high. I also knew that a book like this has the potential to be filled with well-meaning stereotypes in order to present the most inclusive picture: of trans folk, of Puerto Rican New Yorkers, of the dream of being a "real boy," and more. But my fears were unfounded; I loved this book. J really rang true to me as a character and as a transguy, and his experiences, though not universal (thankfully not everyone has to move out or change schools in order to transition, though some undoubtedly do), were realistic. I Am J was everything I hoped it would be.

But I did have a couple of problems. I found it hard to believe that J, who has been looking around on the internet for information and support since he was eleven, hadn't heard about T (testosterone injections) or a (chest) binder until he was seventeen. I'm willing to let that go as it allows the reader to learn about these things at the same time that J does. I don't think it would have been such a problem if the book wasn't so obviously written by someone who, like J's support group leader, "talk[s] about the 'gender binary' and 'those of trans-masculine identification' as easily as reciting the alphabet" (243).* Beam is a very very knowledgeable woman, as evidenced by her previous work of non-fiction, Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers. She seemed to have a difficult time balancing her wealth of knowledge with the naiveté of her narrator.

This may look like more criticisms than praise, but it's really not! I loved I Am J, and I applaud Beam for taking on the issue of transitioning in the context of cultural and familial expectations, and the fallout from not meeting those expectations, in an accessible and authentic way. Not to mention that she wrote a pretty great story of a teen trying to find his direction and place in the world, regardless of all the issues that J has to deal with. I think this is a must buy for libraries serving youth; it's Luna for the guys.

Book source: ARC provided by the publisher.

*Quotes and page numbers are from an uncorrected proof and may not match the published copy.
… (more)
LibraryThing member LanoraTM
Reading I Am J brought me back to my college days when individuals are allowed to really hone in on who they are. I found myself able to cry with J and feel his anger. Beam's book touches on a very sensitive topics and I feel it is important for not only teens to read I Am J, but for parents and teachers to read it.

What I liked most about I Am J is that throughout J's struggles, he still knew he was transgendered. I applaud the character on that level. So many children and adults are unsure of who they are, so it was refreshing to know exactly who J was.

Yes, this book does have a lot of profanity, under aged drinking, self harm and other things; however, they're an important part of this book. It gives a realistic non-sugarcoated view into J's life.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Booklady123
I received an Advanced Reader's Copy of I Am J by Cris Beam. I did not receive any compensation for my review.

This is a very intense and engaging read about a bi-racial teen's gender transition. Beam's story provides great insight to life a transgender teen. This is an issue that prior to reading this book I did not know much about. Fortunately, as well as writing an engaging story, Beam also takes the time to explain the issues.

However, I was puzzled about why J, who has known since a small child that he is a boy born with girl parts, waited until he was 18 to seek support. All in all I found this to be well written, with well developed characters. Though the main story deals with J's life as a transgender teen, it also covers all the usual challenges of just being a teen - including difficulty getting a long with parents. J's parents are not very likable. Not only do they not understand J, they seem incapable of giving him any support. Perhaps this lends to the authenticity of the story, as teens are often misunderstood by their parents.

This is a good read for not only teens but parents as well. Not only is it entertaining, but it provides some valuable insight as well.
… (more)
LibraryThing member bookwyrmm
Definitely the best book (and not because it is the only one) I have ever read on transboys. Very human.
LibraryThing member lilibrarian
The story of a boy trapped in a girl's body, this book tells of Jeni, who wants to be known as J, as she tries to get her family to accept who he is and who he wants to become.
LibraryThing member Bellydancer
J has always felt different. He felt that as he got older that everyone would understand who he really was; a boy mistakenly born as a girl. But as his body begins to betray him, J starts to wear wraps and started covering up his body, keeping himself invisible from his friends and school mates. 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, and he looks into the medication that will transform his female self.

I loved the story of J, an inspiring character learning to love himself for who he is to become. It is wonderful to see some well written teen fiction on the topic of transgender teens.
… (more)
LibraryThing member EdGoldberg
Seventeen-year-old J is a boy born into a girl’s body. He dresses as a boy, binds his breasts, and attempts to make his mannerisms more masculine. Unable to tell his unsuspecting parents or his best friend Melissa, J feels no alternative but to run away. Wandering around lower Manhattan, he meets Blue, who treats him as a boy, causing him to believe she is girlfriend potential. Checking into a cheap hotel, J is advised by a wizened guest to leave and points him to a clinic where testosterone shots are given to transgender boys. J feels this is the answer to his problems but is disconcerted to learn that he must attend counseling and obtain parental approval for the shots, a process that takes several months. Uncertain, he attends counseling and finds people with whom he can relate. He transfers to a GLBT high school to finish his senior year.
In I Am J, Beam writes about an underserved population and covers the emotional hodgepodge that transgenders go through. However, the writing bogs the story down. A more tightly written novel might have more impact. The confusion of the central characters, J, Melissa, J’s parents is offset nicely by the quiet acceptance of some ancillary characters. Although J is emotionally a man, he does not know how boys act or think. Luna by Julie Anne Peters, tells this story from the transgender girl’s perspective and is better written. Beam presents the facts and includes a list of GLBT resources. Purchase I Am J to complement your collection in this area.
… (more)
LibraryThing member rbd08
I am J is a story of a boy mistakenly born as a girl. J is transgender. He is in his senior year and soon on his way to college to study what he loves and does best. Photography. His senior year though, he decides he wants to change. He needs to change. He wants to look like the person he really is. A boy/man. He's never had so many mixed and confused feelings about completely changing himself until this year. When he finally finds a solution, he doesn't let anyone stop him from getting Testorone. T will help him change his appearence as a woman and make J look and sound like a man, so he decides to run away since he knows his parents will not support him with this. Through this little journey, J comes across new people, and learns that he needs to rely on his parents more than anyone else, because they will eventually get used to J being transgender.
I Am J is one of the best books I've read. J is not always person a person who thinks things through, but he is an intelligent, creative person.
… (more)
LibraryThing member llpollac
J has always felt male inside, but during his senior year in high school, he decides to transition. Because of this decision, he must deal with the reactions of his parents and friends, while he also makes new friends and accesses resources available to trans youth in New York. "I Am J" is a realistic story of the experiences that many trans teens have when they are coming out. The story is not sugar-coated, but remains hopeful throughout. The first-person narration allows the reader to get inside of J's head and really experience events from J's perspective. Some of the relationships that J has with his friends seem lightly drawn, but J's strong voice more than makes up for this. An author's note explaining her authority to write this story and a list of resources available to trans youth end the volume. Recommended for high schoolers, especially those who know someone who is trans or who are interested in queer issues.… (more)
LibraryThing member iluvvideo
A young man who calls himself 'J'. In high school but struggling to find out who he is and his place in the world. His parents only make his life more stressful. Pressure to make the right choices and decisions seems to come from everywhere. Friends try to understand and help. Can J trust anyone?

Oh, and J was born Jennifer, a female. The body he inhabits does not reflect the reality of his life. He is a boy. Add to all the other pressures of adolescence that J is transgendered. Female to male. Not gay/lesbian. Not a phase. Is there no one to turn to. He feels so alone.

From a composite of transgendered teens the author has worked with, Cris Beam delivers a truthful, emotionally wrenching and totally believable look into a heretofore mostly unexplored world.

J is bright, resourceful, determined and driven. With only himself to rely upon, he navigates school,family and friends (even a girlfriend) in his quest to become as God truly made him, a male.

I recommend this book to anyone seeking an insight into the lives of transgendered teens (FTM), parents, teachers and counselors, clergy and most importantly teens themselves. Not only trans teens, but all teens. It truly is an eye opener and will trigger many areas for discussion.
… (more)
LibraryThing member KatelynR
J was born as Jenifer Silver.A girl.A mistake. He was supposed to be born male and now that he's almost eighteen he's going to fix that mistake.

J is transgender. By taking Testosterone, all his problems are solved. He'd become more manly.He'd be a man.
All he has to do is tell his family and his best friend,Melissa.

Cris Beam makes this book very real,like you know J and you know how he feels all the time. Sorta like your Melissa,his best friend.
… (more)
LibraryThing member tierneyc
I Am J. By Cris Beam. Little, Brown and Company / Hachette Book Group. 2011. 339 pages. $16.99 hbk. 978-0316053617. Grades 8-12.

J is struggling to articulate and come to terms with his gender identity, amidst the turmoil of a rocky friendship, a strained relationship with his unaccepting parents, and the looming threat of what to do with his life. His story is moving and well-written, offering a clear arc of growth in the face of many setbacks: J’s transition and journey of personal discovery are the focus, but they are gracefully expressed in the context of his relationships, his sense of self, and his aspirations for the future. Beam’s novel is a breath of fresh air in the sparse existing literature featuring transgender youth: the perspective of a transgender protagonist, especially one who is multiracial (of Puerto Rican and Jewish descent) and lives in a low-income urban environment, is an important one to feature for young adult readers whose experiences resemble J’s. Written in the third person, the story uses masculine pronouns to refer to J from the very beginning, showcasing the fact that J has always been a boy – even before (unnecessary) outside validation of that fact. Beam also provides a list of resources at the back, both for transgender teens and their families, an important addition for questioning or transitioning readers. I Am J marks an important step in YA literature with its creation of an authentic and relatable transgender protagonist: but it is the all-too-human story Beam skillfully weaves, rather than the issues the novel portrays, that makes the work a must-read for teens struggling to make their way in the world.… (more)
LibraryThing member WarriorLibrary
Good read for anyone wanting to know about being transgender. It is told from the viewpoint of a boy who is biologically a boy.
LibraryThing member melissadorish
What would life be like if you were born one gender but identified with the other? This is the internal struggle transgender teen Jennifer “J” Silver faces each day in the realistic fiction story I am J. The 17-year-old is tired of the stares, the insults, and living a life that is a lie. While the biracial J dresses the part of a boy, his parents still treat him like the daughter they bore.

J struggles to be understood because he has felt like a boy as long as he can remember but his body has betrayed him. He binds his chest to hide his developed breasts and learns that testosterone could be instrumental in changing his life forever. He has a complicated relationship with his best friend Melissa, a cutter. On one hand, she is the one who seems to best understand J, but he also has feelings for her that go beyond friendship.

When J runs away from home, the journey is as much an emotional one as it is physical. On his own, he is fortunate to find people and places that aid in his quest for self-discovery. One such place is a special high school for gay and transgender teens where J finally begins to feel a sense of acceptance and makes a true friend in Chanelle. The language author Cris Beam uses is easy to follow, but the subject matter is likely to be new for most teens and Beam does an impressive job of accurately portraying what life might be like for a transgender teen.

Often times, literature is a way to explore possibilities and help students find themselves, imagine others, value difference, and search for social justice.

Aside from transgender, themes that Beam explores in this book are acceptance, coming of age, independence, strength, love, self-discovery, friendship, tolerance and identity.

I would recommend this book to 14-18-year-olds, especially those experiencing any kind of identity crisis. In fact, I personally know a teenager who thought she was a lesbian, then read this book and said, "this is how I feel. I'm not gay. I was just born the wrong gender." That teen is now living as an extremely well-adjusted and confident transgender boy. Talk about the power of literature!
… (more)
LibraryThing member librarybrandy
J was born a girl, but knows he's actually a boy. The trouble is in making everyone else understand that--his parents, his best friend, and to a certain extent even himself. As he takes steps to transition to the male body he knows he should have always had, he has to come to terms with his family and friends, as well as himself.

While I can't speak to the realism of the transsexual community, J's angst and fears ring true. This is an excellent portrayal of a sensitive topic.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Sullywriter
Engrossing, sensitive, and believable.
LibraryThing member andreablythe
From the book flap: "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."

This is a rather sweet and moving story of a young trans man claiming the right to be himself. J is an interesting character faced with a difficult reality. He is who he is, but the world doesn't see him that way. Declaring his existence, even at the risk of losing all the people in his life whom he loves, is vital to his survival. Besides any thing else, for J, would be a lie.

People are complicated, and this books respects that fact. Family and friends surprise, and strangers alike (some of whom are also trans), all end up surprising (in both good and bad ways) J at various points. Sometimes funny and often touching, this story brought me to tears several times. It's a great book, which I encourage many, many people to read.
… (more)
LibraryThing member JWarren42
I wanted to like this book more than I ended up doing. The problem is that J is always in crisis. There's no humor in the book at all, save one little incident with Chantelle. Even In crisis, there's still humor, I believe, but J is monotone. Still, excellent resource for teachers to open up discussion, and great resources listed at the back of the book.… (more)
LibraryThing member jimrgill
I am J tells a story that is rarely told—the coming of age of a transgender teenager. In this case, it’s the story of J, a biracial (Latino and Jewish) transgender boy who is struggling to become comfortable with his gender identity while coming out to his family and friends.

J’s story features many aspects of “typical” young adult novels—the search for identity, the need for a sense of belonging, emerging values that conflict with those of parents, romance, the confusion of adolescent sexuality, the pressures of high school. J, however, also copes with the challenges of a gender identity that doesn’t match his physical body. Further frustrating matters, J has few resources he can use to educate himself about his predicament—until he runs away from home and encounters a marginalized community of others who, like him, are gender variant. Identifying the resources that can help him leads J to confront new issues—accepting and understanding those resources, finding a way to make them work for him, and developing the confidence to share his gender identity with those he loves.

Although some of the plot developments feel as though they’ve been lifted directly from some standardized paradigm of the challenges faced by most trans* youth (running away from home, confusion over sexual orientation, asserting control over one’s physical development, securing the resources for hormone therapy, finding a community, enduring bullying), Beam has woven these elements into a credible story about a protagonist who is complex, dynamic, and likeable. J is by no means perfect, but it is nearly impossible not to root for his success.
… (more)
LibraryThing member csoki637
Assorted comments:
—the homophobia and misogyny was relentless and went more or less unaddressed ("omg, don't call me a lesbian, ANYTHING but a lesbian, gross" "a bunch of guys are sexually exploiting a 14-year-old girl in the other room? I don't care about that stupid bitch" "how dare you compare it to rape when I start making out with my non-consenting best friend while she's sleeping" "I was only attracted to you because I must have known you were secretly a man inside" etc.)
—the main character is a self-absorbed jerk with no capacity for self-reflection and unfortunately goes through absolutely no development in that respect
—the story got a little tiresome, especially with a lack of realistic and likeable characters
—for YA lit, it's pretty up-to-date on trans* politics — which could be a good or bad thing, depending on how you feel about the asterisk
—the use of Spanish in the novel wasn't obnoxious (I hate it when authors or TV shows use a line in Spanish and then repeat the exact same line in English, instead of letting the context show its meaning; here, the author did the latter)
—none of the female characters had any personality; now that I think about it, the male characters weren't much better either, tbh (J's parents and Chanelle got the closest, but Blue and Melissa were just boring props to J's story)
—gender stereotypes abound

In short, it might be a useful read for someone going through a similar situation, simply because of the lack of YA lit about trans teens, but as far as YA lit goes, it's not very good. And I’m waiting for the day YA authors write a trans guy character who isn’t a raging homophobe and misogynist, because I’m pretty sure it can be done.
… (more)
LibraryThing member bucketofrhymes
This feels harsh to write, but hey. Whenever I see I am J recommended, I'm always surprised that it's considered some kind of must-read in LGBT YA. Granted, there isn't anywhere near as much trans rep in teen books -- or any books, really -- as there should be. But really? This book?

My big hang-up is the amount of homophobia and misogyny that J displays. Like, okay, being trans doesn't inherently prevent him from being homophobic or misogynistic -- but neither does it excuse him. And I felt like that wasn't addressed, or J's character didn't develop, or something.

Plus, this is the second popular trans book that has a narrator flipping out over the thought of being gay. Could we just... not do that, please.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Mirandalg14
Since I hardly ever read the book jacket before reading a book, this one was a bit of a surprise. It was interesting to see that side of how transgenders feel.


Original language


Physical description

288 p.; 5.5 inches


0316053600 / 9780316053600


Page: 0.3822 seconds