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I'm Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  1,134 ratings  ·  192 reviews
From the bestselling author of She's Not There comes another buoyant, unforgettable memoir—I'm Looking Through You is about growing up in a haunted house...and making peace with the ghosts that dwell in our hearts.

For Jennifer Boylan, creaking stairs, fleeting images in the mirror, and the remote whisper of human voices were everyday events in the Pennsylvania house in whi
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published January 15th 2008 by Broadway (first published 2008)
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Feb 07, 2008 rated it liked it
Look, I don't give books three stars. I'm just torn toward four and I'm torn toward two. Anyway, I just copied this from a thread I started on a messageboard, if the tone seems weird and it seems really long.


Fuckin Jenny Boylan, man. This is her new book: I'm Looking Through You. I wish I could remember more about her last one, She's Not There, because she is becoming the biggest Oprah-approved voice of trans women in the world and it'd be nice to track her progress. But I read She's Not Ther
Mar 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
There are many things to admire in Boylan’s latest memoir. Certainly her prose conveys consistently her quirky and entertaining personality and ironic sense of humor, while the sheer extraordinariness of her story, both with its ghosts and her life-long journey to become Jenny after living over 40 years as James, offers much to captivate a reader’s attention. However, what I found most impressive was the structure of the book. It is a brilliantly framed memoir with all of the themes central to t ...more
Mar 08, 2011 rated it liked it
I'm not sure how she convinced someone to buy the idea for the book. "Ok, so, since the first memoir in which I discuss being transgendered was a hit, I will tell the same story but also talk about how my house was haunted and I can see ghosts." The thing is, the ghost parts sound made up. Especially because in a book about how she's seen these spirits her whole life, she hangs out with a ghosthunter and is all eye-rolly and skeptical of the fact that there are ghosts. Wait, whaaaaat? It's like ...more
Jan 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
I'd been wondering how Boylan could fit her trans-sexual background, along with the story of growing up in a haunted house, under a single premise, but it actually works well. Her being "banished" up to the haunted attic as a teen when the family moves in, rather than being encouraged to take the available bedroom on the second floor where her folks and sister slept, gave the book a rather sad start, but she got through that okay, without being traumatized. ...more
Linda Lipko
Feb 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
A fascinating story woven with the backdrop of a trans gender young man haunted both by his physical identity and the physical haunting of a house in main line Philadelphia. It is a very poignant, at times sad and then humorous book. I deeply admire the struggle of the author and the way in which she wrote this moving story. The call to be real and to "find ourselves" is one in which we all struggle to achieve on varying levels. ...more
“Back then, I knew very little for certain about whatever it was that afflicted me, but I did know this much: that in order to survive I’d have to become something like a ghost myself, and keep the nature of my true self hidden. And so I haunted that young body of mine just as the spirits haunted the Coffin House, as a hopeful, wraithlike presence otherwise invisible to the naked eye-like helium, or J.D. Salinger, or the G-spot.” Pg. 25, I’m Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted; a Memoir by ...more
Eva Mitnick
Mar 15, 2009 rated it liked it
I'm not ordinarily a memoir-reader (had to add a new bookshelf category in order to review this book), so the fact that I read this entire memoir cover-to-cover says a lot about its appeal. The author was born a biological male but always felt like he was living a lie, one that haunted him well into his marriage and young fatherhood. He was also haunted by actual ghosts in the old house where he spent his childhood, and so this book is really about putting all his ghosts to rest. Eventually, he ...more
Feb 02, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: transgendered persons, and those trying to understand them.
While the book is easy to read, and rather entertaining at times, it starts off grabbing your attention but ends up "Omg is this over yet". Its not about actual ghosts or haunted houses, but about herself being haunted. You start to get the point about 2/3 through the book, the rest is just pounding it in. ...more
Jeanne Thornton
Nov 22, 2015 rated it liked it
This still suffers from THERE IS ONLY ONE TRANS WOMAN IN THE WHOLE WORLD-itis, and the trick of activating SEEMINGLY INNOCUOUS SYMBOLS that is the main prose thing I remember from She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders ("the life at sea") is really on overdrive here--I mean Dean Martin's peanut song gets activated as a symbol even! But I am a sucker for complex descriptions of houses and environments, and this gives good spooky room.

My favorite part by far is the whole middle section while she'
Nov 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Boylan's memoir is framed by an evening when her band is playing at a run-down, supposedly haunted hotel on the Kennebec River. Within that frame, the author plays fast and loose with time, memory, and identity. Musing on the hotel's ghost, Boylan wonders why some people seem to get stuck at some prior moment in life, so defined by who they used to be, that they end up “haunting their own lives like ghosts.”

This leads naturally to memories of Jenny's boyhood as James, when the family moved into
Apr 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gender
I liked this a lot better than _She's Not There_, which is funny, since I got into reading JFB because of her story of growing up trans, that takes center stage in _She's Not There_. _I'm Looking Through You_ was just far more engaging-- palpable. It was more satisfying rather than less, for me, because it tells her life story from a fantasy point of departure, the concept of a haunting. This book develops that concept by capturing it from a dozen different angles, in seemingly unrelated life ex ...more
I read Jennifer's first memoir She's Not There which is amazing and everyone should read it. I was excited to find out she had written another memoir. Jennifer is haunted not only by the ghosts in her house, but by her body. It was hilarious, heartbreaking, and beautiful. I loved it.

"In the meantime, I am sustained by a saying of my mother's: "It is impossible to hate anyone whose story you know" (25).

"How is it, I wondered, that some people manage to integrate their lives, and live in the mome
Jun 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
I really recommend this book to everyone if only to understand more about trans* people. Although, it should go without saying that this is her own personal perspective and story. Boylan ties in her experience living in a haunted house with her adolescence. I met Jenny Boylan when she spoke at Grinnell and she really is as humorous in writing as she is in real life. This is really the first book I've read where I've actually met the author, so that was a weird experience. I found myself reading ...more
Jun 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
K. Jarboe
Jan 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommended to K. by: Kira
I really loved this book, largely in part because Jenny reminds me a lot of my MtF partner in personality, but it's also a great story about the fear of imposing on those you love with who you really are, and some of the costs and delights of finally asking to be seen. I love the supernatural as a metaphor.

The familiar narrative of suffering by denying the queer self, and then using that suffering as the basis of legitimacy for finally existing as queer, is an important but hopefully soon to be
Jul 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
I had no idea who Jennifer Boylan was when I picked this up, and I assumed from the title it was merely about growing up in a haunted house. Boy, was I ever mistaken! This wonderfully humorous, serious and melancholy memoir talks of Jennifer's haunted childhood. She was haunted by spectres and strange circumstances in her home, aptly named Coffin House (for the man who built it was named Coffin). But these spectres were merely reflections of her own personal haunting - the feeling of being born ...more
Aug 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir-biography
I enjoyed this book almost as much as the previous She's Not There; both are strong, well written memoirs full of the laughter and heartbreak that run through many family stories. But there is nothing trite about this family tale, for while the presence of ghosts is nothing new, the author's struggle with gender identity and then acceptance of transexuality is not a familiar challenge for most readers. Jennifer Finney Boylan shares her story with honesty and humor and I was glad to follow her jo ...more
Sep 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is an odd listening experience ( I'm experiencing as an audio-book) because the author is also reading the memoir and singing various lyrical snippets since the main character is a performing musician. Also, the character is both Jenny in present-day and Jimmy in the 1970s. I didn't know it was about a transgendered person, but I am interested to see how this persons life story goes...

The start may not have been the most smooth entrance to her life's narrative, but the rest of it is written
May 17, 2009 rated it liked it
When I added this book to my must-read list, I thought it seemed pretty straightforward-- a girl who grew up in a haunted house talks about how it affected her. And yeah, I guess that's what the book is about, except that the girl was a guy when she was growing up. We went out to dinner with friends while I was immersed in Growing Up Haunted and they asked what I was reading. When I told them it was about a transsexual who grew up in a haunted house they actually laughed at me. And then I realiz ...more
Kristy Alley
Feb 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
I picked this up at a sale having flipped through it but not really knowing anything about the author. Once I started reading, I had vague recollections of seeing her on Oprah, but I didn't let that deter me. I found the book to be surprisingly funny. I love the tone and the fact that Boylan does not take herself too seriously, but she doesn't take that to an affected, snarky extreme the way so many writers seem to. I enjoyed the fact that it was a fairly light read that was still very well writ ...more
Mary MacKintosh
What haunted this author? What continues to haunt her? Apparently she grew up in a haunted house, but as a boy. Now, after being transgendered, she has written a wonderful reminiscence of her experiences in this ghostly home, as well as her own self haunting. Was she haunted by what she was not? Is she haunted by what she used to be? Is there longing for what might have been, or is there not? She certainly seems to experience some eerie visions in old buildings. I loved Boylan's writing style, a ...more
Kelly MacIver
Jan 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm almost done with this ( thanks to a snow day). It was very well written, and also hilarious for sure.
"The anemone of my anemone is my friend.". And that's just one example.

I don't pretend to understand what people who are transgendered feel. At all. But I do wonder what all the big surgery, and all that is involved, is good for, in the end. Just to look different? Again, I admit I don't completely understand.

That being said, I can relate to a lot of her references to books, music, etc, whi
May 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Boylan certainly knows how to tell stories. I love the way she weaves together her past and present. As Boylan puts it, she is searching for a way to resolve her male history with her female present, to feel like one person instead of two, and in the final dream scene, she asks her former self (an awkward young boy) if he's really not angry that she's done away with him. It's a poignant moment and a moving memoir, and I recommend it. (It was especially fun to read having just finished reading Gi ...more
Isabelle Johnson
Jul 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Disclaimer: Jenny is my friend. Her writing has progressed through the last twenty years to become more nuanced, more authentic, less wacky/far-fetched, e.g. cement mixers and melting dogs, and funnier.

And she just generally kicks ass.
I'm torn on this one. I must admit I skipped through a lot of it as I could care less about the gender issues. I read the book because I wanted to read about the ghosts. I did enjoy the few and far between parts about the haunted house. I just wish there was more ghosties and less of the rest!
Very good book but for me it left big holes in the stories. The jumps in history were so big I felt a bit left out and lost. I do however recommend this book to anyone open minded. If you are looking for just a ghost story then this is not your book, it is much more than a haunted house.
Aug 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Definitely not what I was expecting, but I'm glad I finished it. It was amusing and touching ...more
Jonathan Frederick Walz
Thumbs up. At turns hilarious and poignant, as one would expect from the Notorious JFB.
Jeanne Julian
"I do not believe in ghosts, although I have seen them with my own eyes. This isn't so strange, really. A lot of people feel the same way about transsexuals."--page 107. Entertaining memoir--despite the pain at the heart of this coming-of-age and coming-out story. It suggests that "unseen spirits" within--our yearnings, our pasts, our recalcitrant natures--haunt us as much as do beings from the spirit world. There's a bemused cynicism and matter-of-fact acceptance of the ghostly visitations desc ...more
Helen Armstrong
Oct 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
After what was beginning to seem like a clinical bout of no reading, I enrolled in an English class (required-ish) called Voices of America. I was simultaneously excited and concerned about how it would go, discussing various issues like class, race, sexuality, and gender with a mixed-bag group of my fellow students. I was even more excited - and more concerned - when I saw this book on the syllabus. I hadn't heard of Jennifer Finney Boylan, hadn't really delved into the world of "transgender" i ...more
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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

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“...a memoir is meant to be an impression of life, and not a photograph.” 3 likes
“Dialectics is the philosophy of opposites.”
I thought about this. “How do you make a philosophy out of opposites?”
“Well, you know how people are. They like to see things in black and white? Up or down, male or female?”
She had my attention now. “Uh-huh.”
“Well, dialectics says that’s all bullshit. That life is not about opposites, but about finding the balance between all these extremes.”
I tried to sound less interested than I actually was. “How do you do that?” I said. “Find balance, I mean?”
“By paying attention,” she said. “By trying to see how everything also contains its opposite.” She took a drag on her cigarette. “Because if you live your life at the extremes, you go nuts. If you want to make any sense out of the world, you have to live in the gray.”
“That sounds hard,” I said.
“The hell yes it’s hard,” she said. “People don’t like gray. It makes people uncomfortable.”
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