I Am J
by Beam, Cris

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.

Cris Beam is the author of Transparent, a Stonewall Honor Book and Lambda Literary Award winner. She has an MFA in writing from Columbia University and teaches creative writing at Columbia, New York University, and The New School. I Am J is her debut novel. While living in LA, Cris volunteered at Eagles, a high school for gay and transgender kids. During the 2.5 years Cris taught there, she became deeply involved with a complex but marginalized tribe of transgender teens who had nowhere to go but the streets, one of whom became her foster daughter.

*Starred Review* Who is J? Though born a girl, he has known since early childhood that he is really a boy. But how to explain that to his parents, who simply consider him to be a lesbian, or to his best friend, Melissa, whom he loves but who rejects him angrily when he kisses her since she, too, regards him as a girl? Small wonder he is self-hating and angry and determined to mask the female part of his identity. But finally, sick of wearing bandages and multiple layers of baggy clothing to hide his body, he decides to take testosterone so he'll look and sound more male. But he is only 17 and needs parental consent to do this. What to do? The solutions-like his life-are complicated and difficult. But desperate determination and the faithfulness of friends may help him to find himself and the acceptance of others. 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. Perhaps most importantly, the author brings clarity and charity to a state of being that has too long been misunderstood, ignored, and deplored. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

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! J lives with his Puerto Rican mother and Jewish father in Manhattan's working-class Washington Heights neighborhood but plans to go to college to study photography. He tries not to think about gender and covers his body in thick layers of clothing, but he still tenses up when his mother calls him "m'ija" or classmates call him "dyke." After a heated argument with his best friend, Melissa, and a nearly physical fight at school, J starts cutting class. A Google search leads him to the idea of taking testosterone, and J leaves home, certain that his parents will not accept his choices. In his new haunts, including a seedy hotel, a downtown Starbucks, a trans support group and a high school for LGBT students, J encounters a vibrant and diverse cast of characters. Responses to J's transition vary from affirming (his trans poet classmate Chanelle's support) to heartbreaking (his parents' resistance) to maddening (Melissa's attempt to make art with J as her "muse"). Readers will likely come away agreeing with J: "Being trans wasn't special, and yet it was. It was just good and bad and interesting and fucked-up and very human, like anything else." (Fiction. 14 & up)

Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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