Cris Beam, March 2011. Beam wrote the excellent Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers, a nonfiction look at MTF kids in LA. I couldn’t put that one down, so was delighted to hear about Beam’s foray into YA fiction.
It didn’t disappoint. I Am J is narrated by (obviously) J, once Jenifer, a seventeen-year-old FTM kid living in Manhattan and going through all the normal teen stuff – a crush on his best friend, parents who just don’t understand, bullies – but with an extra knife in his heart: he has a vagina. He’s not sure how to tell his parents, and he can’t tell Melissa (the aforementioned best friend) either, mostly because she’s mad at him for kissing her when she was asleep. He knows that was wrong, but he just wanted to kiss a girl.
J has been ditching school quite a lot, partly because of the bullies and constant shouts of “dyke” (if they only knew!), but mostly because he wants time to be who he is. Some of this is spent searching the web for information on how to get testosterone shots; some is spent at Village coffee shops, where the cute girls just think he’s a cute boy. Then his parents find out about the school-skipping, and the family decides J should move in with Melissa for a little while. This is when J starts going to therapy (required to get the testosterone) and starts taking classes at a school for gay and trans kids, and learns new words like “intersex” and “cisgendered.” The book gets a little clichéd from here, as J learns to Be Himself by hanging out with arty wild kids, and his Redeeming Hobby (photography) saves the day in the end. Still, the book is realistic (mostly), and handles the big life changes without the melodrama of a Julie Ann Peters. It’s also hard to put down, making the reader really care about J and what will happen to him next. Highly recommended for public libraries and many school media centers.