Now more than ever, I believe it is our duty as educators to introduce students to diverse voices. I am J by Cris Beam does a wonderful job of introducing teen readers to the story of J, a transgendered teen who struggles to accept himself. This novel is simultaneously heart wrenching and hopeful. It is a great read for students who are struggling with their own gender identity or who would like to understand further the struggles of their transgendered peers.
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What Drew Me to I Am J:
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 with trans lit 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 I Am J “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.
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 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 they 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 The Ideal Reader for I am J?
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. It can also provide hope that eventually, one will find his or her community–even without a supportive family.
For non-LGBTQ students, J’s story can build understanding and empathy.
I am J 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 on hand 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. But this isn’t one to push on students.
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
Need more LGBTQ stories for your classroom library? Carry On is a fantasy LGBTQ romance, but is a much more light-hearted story. Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda is a modern-day LGBTQ romance as well.
If you want more general diversity in your classroom library, you may also want to check out Dread Nation.
For even more must-have classroom library literature, sign up to be an It’s Lit Teaching insider. You’ll receive a list of titles for your classroom library and regular updates!