Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I Am J - Cris Beam

I AM J by Cris Beam
Jeni was assigned the wrong gender at birth. In the sixth grade, Jeni starts going by J . Now a senior in high school, J knows he's transgender and wants to begin the transition to his rightful gender. We first meet J going to a party so his best friend Melissa wouldn't have to go alone. Since the party wasn't J's scene, it's not a great place to meet him. I felt the author through J tried to squeeze in as many facts about J and Melissa's family and friendship as possible. It felt forced and unnecessary, since it was only the first chapter.

In his head J refers to his parents by their first names Carolina and Manny*. J relationship with his parents has been very shaky recently. When J realizes they think he's a lesbian, he's beyond frustrated at not being understood. When I got to this point in the story, I couldn't help but think at least J's parents are trying to accept what they believe to be his sexual preference. If I had understood J's a bit more I would've looked at this scene differently.

I thought the author did a good job of allowing the reader to see J for who he really was. A male born in a female body. Beam gets across J's frustrations at being misunderstood and called a lesbian. In the beginning J's a little homophobic. In the end I realized it would be difficult to defined as something your not daily, and then begin to dislike the incorrect label. I wish Beam would've had J explain his aversion to being labeled a lesbian. Since I don't know much about transgender I couldn't understand why being called a lesbian was the worst thing in the world. Though it does seem obivious now.

J starts doing some searches and learns about testosterone shots and binding. J really wants to begin T shots to start the transition. J begins skipping school and binding his chest. When J meets some girls around his age they only see him as J the boy. J loves his new persona. It was nice to see J come into his own but I have a difficult time believing, J never considered binding or testosterone before the internet search. I will admit I midway through I wasn't enjoying I AM J as much as I would've have liked. Then this paragraph that made me happy I kept on reading.

"No," J answered quietly. He focused inside. It felt as if part of the bone had broken free, its sharp edge scraping a piece of rib, then floating on, looking for a new place to root. Could it be that feelings actually did physical damage? Could he really have broken something? Did the pain stem from hearing his mother's words or his own. He remembered what his old swimming coach used to say when the team was aching and groaning but still had more laps to do: "Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional." I won't suffer, J thought. This may hurt, but I won't suffer. The bone settled."

It was almost midway in and worth the wait. I really started to like J. Maybe I was looking at the story differently but it started to flow a bit better. J was starting to find his own way. He moved in with Melissa and her mother, and enrolled in a school for GLBTQ, teens. I love how J uses his photography to express himself. There's a great wow moment with J taking a photograph of himself, and it hits me how much he's gone through. I thought Beam's describe this scene beautifully.

I am happy I got a chance to read I AM J. And so glad I didn't put it down. There's a lot to take away from this story and J. Don't let my critics fool you, I AM J is a good and worth while read.

*J's mother is Puerto Rican and his father is Jewish. The name, Manny kept confusing me, since I think of it more as a Latino name than a Jewish one, even though its both. I couldn't help but wonder why the author didn't use a different name for J's father. I lot was made of J being a character of color. Puerto Rican cousins and summer trips to PR were mentioned, and a handful of Spanish words though J still didn't feel Latino to me. Though Beam still succeeded in creating a transgender character readers can learn from and a good story.


MissA said...

It's funny I can think of about 4 books plus that one in which the main character is poc and loves photography. An interesting lil trend :)

I would definitely keep thinking Manny was short for Manuel but it could be Emmanuel right?

Slight hmmm to the author trying to really hone in J's Puerto Rican heritage. But this would definitely be an eyeopening story for me.

Doret said...

Ari - I know you'll like I AM J.

Vegetarian Cannibal said...

Sounds good. :)