I seem to be on a Nerdy Book Club streak, as this selection (and the next I am likely to review) was inspired by having seen a review for I am J in early October and also saw it mentioned in the recent roundup of books for teens addressing issues of love and abuse.
I don’t know why I have recently been attracted to books about LBGTQ youth. I am a confirmedly cis-gendered heterosexual female, though I spent much of my teen-hood oblivious (today we might say identified as an asexual person) and hanging out with a batch of slightly older folks who were definitely in the experimenting and questioning stage (I remember long, involved negotiations of who could sleep next to whom as large numbers jammed into the king-sized beds of shared hotel rooms at SF cons – I usually stayed out of the fray in favor of a sleeping bag on the floor or if lucky literally in the closet!).
I can say that I am not the intended audience for this book, and can appreciate how I am J could be just the right thing for a young person to grab onto and say “There are other kids out there like me! Here is someone who feels the way I do.” To me as an adult, I am J read just a bit too much like someone studied the research on transboys and tried to novelize the “typical” experience. In the author’s afterword, Cris Beam mentioned that the genesis of I am J was her research that became the non-fiction book Transparent, and that J started as an amalgam of several of the transboys she knew. I am J had some sweet moments, but in the end Chris Beam’s first foray from journalism to fiction felt a little flat.
While “coming of age” stories are a core part of YA literature, I look forward to the day where there are more diverse stories available, and where a character can be a transboy or a transgirl without the entire book being a study of their struggle for identity.