More like a 3.5.
J has always felt like a boy mistakenly born as a girl. Yet, as he grew up, his body began to betray him and J started covering up his body, keeping himself invisible. But after being deserted by the best friend he thought would always be by his side, J decides that he's done hiding - it's time to be who he really is.
LGBTQ novels tend to be either 'coming out' novels or 'realisation' novels. Either the protagonist comes out to family, friends and the wider world, or they learn something about themselves - their sexual identity (whether gay/lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, etc) or their gender identity. I Am J
is no exeption. It is a coming out novel and, during the course of the novel, J comes out as transgender (specifically FtM) to the important people in his life. There's nothing wrong with these types of plots, of course; I just wish sometimes that the coming out/realisation could take a back seat to a different kind of plot, so that LGBTQ individuals could become more prominent in mainstream fiction. Like, imagine The Hunger Games
if Katniss was attracted to girls. Or Harry Potter
if Harry was gay. Imagine
That aside, this book handled a difficult issue well. J felt like a real teenager, albeit not wholly likeable. He made mistakes, he was an insensitive asshole, he internalised all his pain and then lashed out. These things all contributed to make him a believable character, even though it meant that it took until the latter half of the book for me to actually like him. To be honest, not many of the characters were likeable. Melissa most of all, I think. I didn't like her much at all (which is a shame, because she is the most prominent cisgendered character and I felt a little like cisgendered characters were portrayed in a bad light). Blue, also, wasn't that likeable, in the end.
I suppose Zak and Chanelle are the closest things to likeable this book gets (but both of them are trans*).
I really did enjoy the stylistic choices in this novel, however. Beam tackles third person, which could have been very confusing, but she launches straight into using male pronouns, even when J hadn't entirely figured out he was transgendered yet. I felt that this worked very well.
The only thing I didn't like, stylistically, was that, a couple of times, Beam head-hopped into J's mother's head. This might not have been so bad, but then J was referred to as 'her daughter' in the course of the third person narration. I didn't like the fact that the narration was misgendering him - it is one thing when characters do it, but another when it is done in narration. I felt that the head-hopping was unnecessary.
Also, I found it unbelievable that J did not know anything about chest-binding and testosterone (T) injections at his age, although Beam does
attempt to explain it. I guess the reason it was done that way was to allow readers to learn along with him, but it just didn't ring true.
What did ring true, however, was the fact that J believed T would be a cure all for all his problems, even though it is just the start of the process. He fixated on something to keep him going, and that's human nature. That's one of the things that made him so believable as a character.
All in all, this was a good read and gave a real insight into how a transgendered teen might feel through the coming out process. Due to some flaws and unlikeable characters (that grow on you somewhat), it wasn't the best book I've ever read, but I did enjoy it. I recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about transgender, though this is a work of fiction and should be taken with a pinch of salt. :)