Source: Library Staff ARCs
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.
I Am J is a fabulous look at a much overlooked segment of our youth population. When I was reading it, I felt this overwhelming need to protect J and other students like him. Maybe that's just my personal views on the subject, but I do think that this book stands as a look into a world that is often closed off to those of us on the outside who can't necessarily completely understand what these young people are going through.
So, J, our main character. I found him a little on the rough side and difficult at times to connect with, especially in the beginning. He's a very isolated, gruff young person who is really struggling to find where he "fits" in his world. He lacks a solid support system of any kind, which I think can be at least partially attributed to the fact that he hasn't spoken to ANYONE about the way he truly feels. He gets angry when his mother or father call him Jenifer and he gets even more angry when people think he's a lesbian. I completely understand his anger, but I also really wished he would/could tell someone what he was feeling. When he runs away and finds a support system almost by accident, I felt that his whole world really started to open up.
J's friend, Melissa, really upset me at various points. She struck me as rather self-centered and her cutting and her attitude weren't exactly a positive force in J's life. I also got really upset when she basically lured him into a "trap" for his mom after he ran away. She clearly has no idea what's really going on in J's life and I felt like she really didn't care enough to attempt to find out. J's parents made me really angry as well. They don't seem to take a strong interest in J's life beyond going to school and getting good grades. I would think they would notice his attitude and take an interest. The kicker, however, is when J tells his mom and the actions that she takes afterward. It was almost unforgiveable in my book what she did. I get that as a parent this would be a really difficult thing to deal with, but I also just wanted her to show an ounce of compassion.
I Am J is really a fabulous look at what it's like to be transgendered in a world where that word is still sort of off limits. It's not something that parents want to think about when they have kids, but it's important to realize just how much of an impact a caring individual can have on the life of one teen in this situation. Chris Beam's authentic story is one that I hope makes its way onto many library shelves and into the hands of many teens who need to hear stories just like this one. Paired with Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher, these two books give readers a look at transgendered life from both sides and give valuable insight for questioning kids and teens and those of us on the outside.