Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings

jazzReading this memoir of one of today’s most famous transgender teens feels like sitting down for an eye-opening conversation with a friend.

Recommended grade level: 7 and up

Pages:   256 (for ISBN 9780399554643)

Genre(s) and keywords: nonfiction, memoir, LGBTQA+

Tone/Style: personal, youthful

Pace: moderate to fast

Topics: transgender people, coming out, media attention, dating, legal battles

Themes: courage, gender identity, being oneself, speaking out

Summary: Jazz Jennings is one of the youngest and most prominent voices in the national discussion about gender identity. At the age of five, Jazz transitioned to life as a girl, with the support of her parents. A year later, her parents allowed her to share her incredible journey in her first Barbara Walters interview, aired at a time when the public was much less knowledgeable or accepting of the transgender community. This groundbreaking interview was followed over the years by other high-profile interviews, a documentary, the launch of her YouTube channel, a picture book, and her own reality TV series—I Am Jazz—making her one of the most recognizable activists for transgender teens, children, and adults.

In her remarkable memoir, Jazz reflects on these very public experiences and how they have helped shape the mainstream attitude toward the transgender community. But it hasn’t all been easy. Jazz has faced many challenges, bullying, discrimination, and rejection, yet she perseveres as she educates others about her life as a transgender teen. Through it all, her family has been beside her on this journey, standing together against those who don’t understand the true meaning of tolerance and unconditional love. Now Jazz must learn to navigate the physical, social, and emotional upheavals of adolescence—particularly high school—complicated by the unique challenges of being a transgender teen. Making the journey from girl to woman is never easy—especially when you began your life in a boy’s body. (Source)

Who will like this book?: Jazz touches on a lot of typical teen issues like changing friendships, bullying, romantic anxiety, and puberty.  At the same time, her gender identity and her stance as a nationally known transgender activist mean extra struggles and a bit of glamor. This makes her story both relatable and fascinating, and will likely enforce the idea that transgender teens are the same as cisgender teens in most ways.  This book should appeal to a wide range of teen readers interested in looking at the world through the eyes of other teens.

Who won’t like this book?: We’ll start with the obvious: some people will have objections to Jazz’s gender identity. Readers seeking drama may be disappointed; Jazz’s journey is free of emotional blowouts and earth-shattering events.  (She considers herself to have had a relatively smooth childhood compared to other members of the transgender community; that is one reason she feels called to stand up for those who weren’t as lucky as she was.)  It’s apparent that this book was written by a teenager. This is effective at making it feel personal and friendly, but those seeking literary prowess might want to look elsewhere.

Other comments: This is an important and timely book worth hand-selling to readers.  It is not only informative, but empathy-building. 

Sequel(s):

Readalikes: Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin and Some Assembly Required: The Not-So Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews (the is latter recommended for mature readers grades 8 and up) also feature the firsthand accounts of transgender teens. Some fiction options: I Am J by Cris Beam (recommended for mature readers grades 8 and up), Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart, and Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky (which skews more toward 4th-6th graders).

-Kylie Peters

Image credit: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28587986-being-jazz

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