The California Department of Education this week released its long list of recommended books for grades Pre-K-through-12. Between Geoffrey Chaucer and Willa Cather is a new book for high schoolers about a transgender teen’s search for acceptance.
The book is titled “I Am J.” It’s a young adult novel about a teen, Jennifer, who identifies and sees herself as a boy.
In one passage, her father, Manny, lovingly tells J — as she begins calling herself— that she doesn’t have to take a traditional path in life. But it’s clear he’s talking about professions, not gender identity.
Manny stood up and pulled J into a hug. “You’re still my baby girl,” he said into J’s baseball cap. His voice was sweet and crooning. “You’ll always be my baby girl."
J stiffened, resisting the urge in every one of his nerve endings to pull away. What if I’m not? he thought. What if I’ve never been your baby girl? He knew, for sure, that his father would never accept him. He’d have to leave his parents’ house. Now.
“He’s young and idealistic and he’s also savvy and angry, like a lot of teenagers,” author Cris Beam said.
A decade ago Beam volunteered at a school for gay and transgender kids. She wants to accurately portray what she saw there through the book's fictional character.
Beam's happy her book made it on this year’s California schools' recommended reading list of 7,800 books. It’s the first time in five years that it’s been updated. (Here’s a search engine to look for books on the list.)
State officials say the list has included gay and lesbian titles for nearly 20 years. “I Am J,” they believe, is the first one with a transgender theme. A new law compels social studies teachers to include lessons about the contributions of gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans.