Monday, October 1, 2012

I Am J

Beam, C. (2011). I am J. NY: Little, Brown,
        and Company.
YA / Realistic Fiction

My rating on Goodreads: 3 out of 4 Stars

I read this book specifically because it is currently  being challenged at a local high school and this week is Banned Book Week.  The subject matter alone -- a high school student's struggle with his/her transgender identity -- makes it ripe for picking-on.  Unfortunately, when book subject matter makes some people uncomfortable, their knee-jerk reaction is that it is inappropriate for all.

I will say that the language is rough.  On my clean-o-meter reading, it's way in the red, mostly for the ubiquitous use of the F-bomb.  But hey, it's Brooklyn, and a public school setting, so this seems pretty realistic. There is one graphic sex term used, but there isn't any sex.  There is underage drinking, and the consequences of overindulging right along with it.  There is a character who is a cutter, but it is not glorified but instead identified as a cry for help. There are references to drug use, but again, it's all pretty realistic for a high school setting.  (Anyone who thinks it isn't needs to spend a day in a high school, as a fly on the wall.) Many of the things that would cause someone to challenge the book are all in one early chapter, that is really not overly germane to the rest of the story. The whole chapter is really to illustrate J's attempt to be accepted and his commitment to his best friend.

The main character, J,  is really a pretty good kid.  He's trying to figure out how what he knows -- that he is a boy born anatomically as a girl -- can be reconciled with societal beliefs. His struggles are real, and in many ways, his struggles are universal to teens: his parents don't understand him (and vice versa), he makes assumptions about how others feel about him, he doesn't think things through and acts/reacts irrationally, he worries about getting into college, pleasing others, displeasing others, and obsesses over his looks (and how others see him), he is teased and bullied, he is adored and hated. . . he doesn't know who he is or where he's going. Sounds pretty typically teen to me, just has the added element of transgender.  In context, it's one more source of angst for a kid whose plate is already overflowing.

Was this the best written book I've ever read? Absolutely not. The story drags in places and sometimes is disjointed.  It definitely turns out rosier than I think would for most in J's shoes, but the ending is hopeful, which is exactly the message any high school kid needs to hear.

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