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  • I Am J is the story of J, a 17-year-old “Jewto Rican” transgender guy. J is a complicated character, and not very likable for the first two thirds of the novel. He’s angry, hotheaded, and often rather misogynistic in his thoughts and actions towards the many women in the novel. However, most of J’s anger is understandable and reactionary: he’s a teenager who has a firm enough sense of self to know that he’s trans, but lacking the ability to do anything about it, even come out. J’s experiences include things that any trans guy can relate to: being mistaken for a lesbian, not being seen as the man he knows he is, trying his hardest to copy cis men’s mannerisms, wearing multiple layers to hide his body, and the desperate need for hormones to make that body feel like home. (In attempting to be more comfortable in his body, J makes one of the key mistakes a transmasculine person can make: using an Ace bandage as a binder. I can’t stress enough how bad for you this is, and I hate to think that a kid who finds this book at the library could try it themselves and get hurt.) As far as trans male representation goes, I Am J is one of the most realistic portrayals I’ve ever read in fiction. While other young adult novels about trans people focus too much on their cis narrators’ feelings towards trans characters or gloss over the hardships of being a young trans person, I Am J tackles them head-on, not sugarcoating the pain of rejection by family and friends, the possibility of becoming homeless, or the frequent feelings of hopelessness and dejection. At the same time, the novel is ultimately a hopeful one. While not everything gets better for J, he does become a much better and more honest person over the course of the novel, and there’s a sense that he’ll be ok once the last page is turned. Unfortunately, I Am J is not as good at portraying other members of the queer community. J is initially rather homophobic, though this may stem from his desire to not be perceived as a lesbian. As he comes into contact with more queer people, however, his views start to improve. His school friend Chanelle, a trans woman, plays a major part in this change. There are a few very minor gay characters, but no bisexuals — and oddly enough, there are a few instances of biphobia from some of the queer characters which is never challenged by J or Chanelle. None of the trans characters are ever implied to be or explicitly labeled as anything other than straight, adding to the invisibility of queer trans people. Despite its flaws, I Am J is still the best young adult novel about trans youth that I’ve encountered in all my searching, and it’s about a young trans man of color to boot. J is written vividly and dynamically, and the story keeps pulling you forward as J bounces from one place, messy relationship, and experience to another, simply trying to find his place in the world. I think anyone, cis or trans, can relate to that.

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