SNEAK PEEK PREVIEW: I Am J is gutsy, heart-breaking, uplifting

I Am J by Cris Beam; published by Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2011; 339 pages.

NOTE: This review is based on an ARC (advance reading copy) provided for free by the publisher.  The publication information is subject to change.  Expected release date: March 1, 2011.

The senior year of high school is the threshold to so many things.  It’s a time to prepare for change.  Many students prepare to leave their families to go away to college.  Or they have to transition from student to employee.  Relationships change as well as teens teeter on the threshold of adulthood.  For J Silver, change means so much more.  Yes, he has to consider college and transitioning away from family and friends.  But the time has come to find a way to step over the threshold into a “real” world: into the world of “T” and muscles and deep voices.  J has discovered a way to walk away from Jenifer Silver permanently: To leave the female body he was born in and cross the threshold to manhood that he always was inside.  Who will walk with him over the threshold, from Jeni to J?

Cris Beam has created a complex character in J.  Obviously, J is struggling with identity issues beyond what the average teenager faces; yet he is every teenager, or at least every teenager can relate to being misunderstood.  And he misunderstands the people around him, too.  The growth throughout the novel could be any teenager overcoming obstacles thanks to Beam’s writing skills.  But don’t get me wrong, this is an empowering story for teenagers struggling with transgender issues and enlightening for readers who are not familiar with those who struggle with gender identity.  In the end, I cheered for J as he crossed the threshold to a future he created for himself, a future with possibilities he could never have imagined.  I was overwhelmed by this emotional journey and pleasantly surprised that gender was not all that defined this intriguing character.

In addition to being a well-written story, the author has included a wealth of resources for teens (or adults, for that matter) who are struggling with sexual identity.  She also writes a moving note to readers.  This book is a tremendous resource for schools, libraries, and parents.  Will it only appeal to teens with a special interest in the subject?  I hope not; this book is too good to pigeonhole.

2P     4Q     Grade Level: 10-12

Cover Art: The zipped up hoodie will make sense to readers but may not be enough to generate interest in the book.  I hope they change the cover in the final edition (I only have the ARC to go by).

From Reading List: Sexual Identity

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