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She's Not There

3.89  ·  Rating Details ·  6,711 Ratings  ·  625 Reviews
This is the exuberant memoir of a man named James who became a woman named Jenny. A Colby College professor and author of four books of fiction, Boylan has a good comic ear, and that humor keeps the book on track.
Published (first published July 1st 2003)
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way back in 1994, when jennifer finney boylan was still james finney boylan, i found myself in freshman english with this amazing, fun, empathetic, creative professor. he was inspiring in his energy even for us, the lowest of the low - the students who were not aspiring english majors, the students who were taking EN115 because we had to. but man, what a great class jim lead. interestingly, the topic in our small (20 students) section was gender roles and archetypes of men and women. we read cos ...more
May 20, 2009 Chris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those books that I enjoyed so much that I can try to understand that some readers might not have liked it for legitimate reasons, but I don't really get it.

Jennifer's writing is brilliant, and she can capture the riotous absurdity of an event with amazing clarity and compassion. Apart from any aspects of her transsexuality, she's a great writing, and although I tend to avoid memoir, I would have read about her life and memories even if she'd had a conventional sexuality. The episo
Diane Barnes
May 24, 2016 Diane Barnes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club-2016
To be honest, this is not a book that I would ever have considered reading had it not been assigned for our June selection in my real person book club. The person who chose it is a psychologist who wanted some insight into the subject of transsexuals and their feelings. It is also very timely because this book club is in NC, and we all know about the "bathroom issue" that NC has created. I make the drive several times a year because our book club has been together for 25 years.

This is the story
There were a few things I loved about Jennifer Finney Boylan's memoir "She's Not There" - mostly the insights into the differences between male and female.

But when I finished, I felt like SOMETHING definitely wasn't there.

I wanted more from the memoir.

I wanted to know why Boylan always identified with women, even though she was born male - the deep psychological reasons. Was her father not home enough? Not loving enough? Did she have an especially close relationship with her mother? Was there so
May 20, 2007 Juliet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone. absolutely everyone.
This book blew me away. I couldn't put it down, and was alternating between laughter and tears the whole time. Boylan presents such a compelling and captivating exploration of what it means to be a woman through beautiful writing and a very open presenatation of her own life. It's been a long time since I read a memoir this good. The book made me think about myself, my thoughts about love, and my celebration of being female. I recommend it for everyone.

I don't think that Boylan's story tries to
Dec 08, 2008 Wistaria rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one!
Recommended to Wistaria by: I bought it because it was cheap and looked interesting.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 07, 2008 Leslie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the variety of human conditions
Shelves: favorite
I finished the book - it was a quick read.
1 - It's very well written - the author is an English professor in an East Coast college...
2 - It takes courage for a transsexual to make the transition.
3 - It takes courage for the wife of a transsexual to watch her spouse make the transition.
4 - I am SO glad I never had to deal with this dilemma
5 - I wonder what it takes to live with the knowledge you are not what you seem. Courage, fortitude, integrity.
6 - I wonder how many others in this world live w
Jun 22, 2007 Beth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who want to be educated on basic transgender issues
Poorly chosen title, terrible cover concept (why cut a woman in half?!)... but the book is well written and should educate a lot of people about trans issues. I myself was a bit surprised about the author's naivete when she was first transitioning--clearly, while living as a straight man, she had never met trans people or even gay or lesbian or bi people who were out. Quite a sheltered existence, considering she was a sophisticated college prof at Colby. So her story is probably more important, ...more
May 02, 2007 Kaitlin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Colby Grads!
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
I took a couple classes with Jenny and one with James, so I'm prejudice. But, I loved it despite that. I think the struggle to come to terms with something you already know but don't want to face is beautifully portrayed here. She talks about how she needs to be selfish in this decision, but at the same time, it tears her apart that she is breaking the hearts of those around her. All in all, it is a hopeful story and I really enjoyed it.
Feb 03, 2013 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: for-me, queer-lit
there was part of me (the part that studied american studies at a liberal arts school and used the word "intersectionality" in over a dozen papers) that was critical of and disappointed in this book. jenny never acknowledges the way her transition experience was shaped by her class and race privilege. her expensive surgeries and cushy job in colby college's english department hugely shaped her experience, yet jenny seems to have no awareness or interest in exploring these things.

that said, i cam
I was really excited to have this chance to read this book for my Intro. to Women' and Gender Studies class because my father recommended it to me. I really enjoyed the book, but not in the ways that I expected to. I also have to say that I think that memoirs are hard books to review, because they are about personal experiences and there's so many different things that one can take away from a memoir.

I went into this book thinking that I would learn more about what it means to be transsexual and
Jul 12, 2015 Rebecca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've followed Jenny Boylan's story since she first appeared on Oprah years ago to talk about her experience of being trans , and I've been friends with her on Facebook for some time now too. Yet for some reason, I wrongly assumed that this book was popular because of its subject matter and not because of its incredibly engaging writing. I also assumed that since it was published in 2003, it might be somewhat outdated in its perspective on trans identity. I was misguided on both counts. Boylan is ...more
Apr 28, 2015 Carmen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People trying to understand transsexuals
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 23, 2007 Shelly rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: students and feminists
Shelves: bookclub
I did not expect to like this book, I think it had to do with a fear that it would be a shallow treatment of a really complex bunch of issues and the goofy cover image (who IS that supposed to be? Every time I closed the book I questioned the mystery of how these things get decided).

Though regarding mystery, this book ultimately touches on what Russo sums up in his loving afterword - mysteries "which reside at our human center, constitute the deeper truths of our being" whcih "we often keep sec
Rachel León
Aug 28, 2016 Rachel León rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(Probably 4.5 stars) Here's a fantastic memoir with lots of humor and heart about Jennifer Finney Boylan's journey as a trans-woman. I listened to the audio book, which was so much fun it was hard to turn off. I wanted to keep listening because it had me laughing and completely spellbound. (Finney Boylan is a wonderful performer.) Interestingly Finney Boylan is best friends with novelist Richard Russo and the audio book included two afterwards, one by Finney Boylan's wife, then second by Russo. ...more
Joy H.
Added 4/10/16. (first published July 1st 2003)

This is an excellent autobiography which does a good job at helping you understand all the related issues. Well told and interesting. Actually a page-turner for me. Very engaging.

At the GR page of this author, Jennifer Finney Boylan, the description reads: "Jenny's memoir ... was one of the first bestselling works by a transgendered American; until 2001 she published under the name James Boylan."

The GR book description says: "...surprising story of
Writer's Relief
Jun 03, 2014 Writer's Relief rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
With a fine balance of humorous wit and emotional depth, Jennifer shares the story of her transition from being a man (“James”) to being a woman in her memoir SHE’S NOT THERE. As someone who didn’t know much about the transition process, I was fascinated. After spending 43 years as a man, married, with two children, “James” decides to risk everything to become Jennifer, the person she felt she was always meant to be. It’s encouraging to see the support “James” receives when she finally reveals h ...more
Jul 04, 2010 Kylefoster85 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book has everything to do with how a transgendered individual goes throughout their life with such a difficult secret. Jennifer goes through her life as James because she feels like she has to, in order to keep her life and family together. As James, she felt like she could be "cured" of her need to be a woman by finding love. Eventually, she finds Grace, who is uniquely understanding, and raises a family. But even then, even with her successful life as a man, she needs to be a woman. The t ...more
Jennifer Anne
Oct 09, 2009 Jennifer Anne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an autobiography of a trans woman (someone born with male physiology, but who has always known they where cognitively, emotionally, and spiritually female). She is a Professor of English at Colby College in Maine and transitioned (changed the gender she presented to the outside world) about ten years ago at about age 45 while at Colby. She was and still is married and has two sons that she fathered with her non-trans female partner.

This book was very literally life changing for me, but i
The story of Jennifer Finney Boylan's sex change is an engaging one, because Boylan is an engaging person, with a writer's ear for what makes a telling detail. Also, since she is a comic writer, her tone is very light, even though she speaks of sorrow, concealment and pain. Too many memoirs pour on the melodrama, which this one doesn't. We learn a lot about what leads to the decision to have sex reassignment surgery. For a man who has already had children and has a loving marriage, the decision ...more
Jessica Culhane
Aug 25, 2015 Jessica Culhane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a quick read. I enjoyed Boylan's wit (the letter to NASA was a nice touch) and insights into gender differences. I had trouble with the sections where she describes her wife's reactions - they seems kind of callous. Not saying that Boylan shouldn't have taken any of the steps that she did, but it seems like she had trouble acknowledging how it was affecting others. It's possible this just didn't come across correctly through her writing style.
Sharon Rosenberg-Scholl
"Having an opinion about transsexuality is about as useful as having an opinion on blindness. You can think whatever you like about it, but in the end, your friend is still blind and surely deserves to see."

This was a captivating book, as evidenced by the fact that I had every intention of going to bed an hour ago, but found myself unable to do so until I reached the end. With poignancy and great humor, Boylan tells her story of growing up Transgender and finding her way to allowing herself to l
Jan 17, 2016 Susanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Picked this 2003 book up off a library display and found it immensely engaging and eye-opening. A college English professor writes about his decision, in his 40's to transition to the female he has felt himself to be since childhood. Fascinating to read about how his wife and sons handled the change. Equally fascinating to realize that a person could go through something so traumatic and painful and emerge on 'the other side' with sense of humor intact. The author freely admits he had been a 'go ...more
May 30, 2008 Jackie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who is willing to have their mind and heart opened up
Shelves: pleasure-reading
What a wonderful and startlingly honest book this is! The world is not an easy place for the transgendered, especially during transition: jobs are lost, relationships strained or broken, even strangers can be cruel. All because someone wants to be physically what they are emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Finney takes you through every painful step of the process--and shows you some of eventual joys. This book is about love and self respect above all else, being true to yourself no m ...more
Jan 29, 2015 Marie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was interesting. I have seen men dressed as woman and I never thought it to be such a struggling process to go through. I would have never thought that wanting to be something you are not since birth would cause problems for you throughout your entire life and make you over analyze yourself when you shouldn't have to. But then again, it does make sense. You are born to be something that you don't want to be. I can understand why someone would go through such a hard time wondering what ...more
Jul 05, 2007 Nancy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had trouble with the stream of consciousness style.........but I got used to it.

I must have missed something. I looked at the reviews on Amazon (to see if I'm the nut, usually) and most reviewers said something to the effect of how this book gave them some grand understanding of transgender.

I found the treatment relatively superficial in that regard. I do like her sense of humor so I'm going to get one of her novels to read.
Mar 14, 2008 Bryn rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The funniest thing that happened in this book is when Rick Russo refers to Eugene Schrang as "Big Pussy."
Oct 16, 2015 Angela rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It reads like a fiction book with unmemorable side characters. The writing style does not work for me. It was one of those books I cannot remember or care about the side characters... I instantly forget the details about them right after reading the sentences hence I cannot follow what's going In the parts that follow. She doesn't write about what I want to know and so it was unsatisfying. I will definitively avoid books written by this author. We are not compatible.

I'm kicking myself for not re
May 12, 2014 A rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
This is a memoir about one person's experience as a trans woman and has the advantage over some books in this area by being less polemical and reflecting a more "writerly" approach. It also reflects a more white, middle-class, liberal lifestyle and upbringing; Boylan's experience is not that of all trans people and I think the incident Russo describes in his afterword at the end makes this quite palpable. Still, it is worth reading merely for the fact it humanizes a subject that is foreign to th ...more
R. C.
Jun 12, 2009 R. C. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't get the title, unless it's meant to make readers argue with it and say, "But she was always there!" which is something many transfolk long for people to say, I guess, about the person they have always felt they are. I'd suggest, instead, A Normal Transition: How the Privileged and Naive Cross Genders.

It was a great read, the ever-praised funny+poignant memoir. The tale was well-structured but also interesting at pretty much any random point you might browse into.

The author is as normal
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Jennifer Finney Boylan is a widely praised author and professor.

Edward Albee summed up her oeuvre in 1988: -- "Boylan observes carefully, and with love. [Her] levitating wit is wisely tethered to a humane concern…. I often broke into laughter, and was now and again, struck with wonder."

Jenny's memoir, She's Not There, published by Broadway Books in 2003, was one of the first bestselling works by a
More about Jennifer Finney Boylan...

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“As it turns out, we're all still learning to be men, or women, all still learning to be ourselves. pg 197” 6 likes
“Although my understanding of exactly how much trouble I was in grew more specific over time, as a child I surely understood enough about my condition to know it was something I'd better keep private. By intuition I was certain that the thing I knew to be true was something others would find both impossible and hilarious. My conviction, by the way, had nothing to do with a desire to be feminine, but it had everything to do with being female. Which is an odd believe for a person born male. It certainly had nothing to do with whether I was attracted to girls or boys. This last point was the one that, years later, would most frequently elude people, including the overeducated smarty-pants who constituted much of my inner circle. But being gay or lesbian is about sexual orientation. Being transgedered is about identity.” 4 likes
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