Lit Literature Reviews are designed for the busy English teacher. If you’re looking to build a quality classroom library quickly, or get the right books into the hands of the right students, look no further! Lit Literature Reviews give you quick book stats like length and Lexile, an overview of the book’s strengths, and a profile for its perfect reader.
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Title: I am J
Author: Cris Beam
Genre: Realistic fiction, LGBTQ
Setting: Modern day New York, NY
Main Character: J, a biracial transgender boy
Page Numbers: 288
What drew me in:
Our school (an alternative choice school) is slowly becoming an oasis for transgendered and questioning students who are struggling at the larger high schools. Because of this, I am actively trying to increase the amount of LGBTQIA literature in my classroom library.
I also want to be familiar myself so I can make recommendations to students. I got this title from a colleague and I can’t wait to get my hands on more books for my students who are struggling with their identity.
What makes this literature lit?
When I started I Am J, I wasn’t really into it. The main character J hates himself so much. He’s negative and self-defeating and it’s hard to be in someone’s head like that for very long. However, as J comes to realize, acknowledge, and accept his identity as a trans man, the book becomes more enjoyable and pleasurable to read.
I think this effect is pretty masterful on the part of the author. Regardless of how we the reader identify, we are pulled along through J’s transformation: his denial, his self-hate, his transformation, and finally his self-acceptance, and we ride the emotional roller coaster that comes with J’s journey. By the end of the novel, I felt lighter myself as J finds his community and himself.
J’s family isn’t super supportive of his being transgendered. His best friend Melissa doesn’t really get it at first. J isn’t even sure what being trans means himself or what you’re supposed to do once you realize you are trans. I think there are a lot of young people who can understand this struggle, or maybe have a friend going through the struggle of learning what it means to be transgender. This novel could be invaluable to them. For students who are struggling with their own identity, I am J shows them that they are not alone. For others, it shows them a glimpse into the trans experience so that they can better understand and empathize. I highly recommend having a couple copies of this book on your classroom shelf; you never knew for whom it could make all the difference.
Who’s this book for?
The LGBTQ population is growing in my school, specifically the number of trans students. I wanted to make sure that they would have something on the shelf that makes them feel represented. J is someone you can connect with, and his story can teach those questioning their identity a lot about starting that journey.
For non-LGBTQ students, J’s story can build understanding and empathy. This would be a great book for any student who is drawn to LGBTQ stories or who is actively questioning their own identity. It could be a great book for gay-straight alliance groups or peer support groups. It might also be great to have to recommend to parents who are struggling with understanding their child’s identity.
I wouldn’t really recommend I am J to anyone who doesn’t actively seek out this genre. For one, the beginning is a little hard to get through if you can’t connect (I hated being in J’s self-hating head!). Book talk this in your classroom or display it prominently, and the students who need it will find it.
Need more diverse novels for your classroom library? Try fantasy with Children of Blood and Bone!