Monday, April 29, 2013

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children: A review

By Kirstin Cronn-Mills
Publisher: flux
Copyright: 2012
Pages: 262
Awards: ALA's 2013 GLBTQ Rainbow List (2013)

"This is Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, on community radio 90.3, KZUK. I'm Gabe. Welcome to my show."

My birth name is Elizabeth, but I'm a guy. Gabe. My parents think I've gone crazy and the rest of the world is happy to agree with them, but I know I'm right. I've been a boy my whole life.

When you think about it, I'm like a record. Elizabeth is my A side, the song everybody knows, and Gabe is my B side--not heard as often, but just as good.

It's time to let my B side play.

~Goodreads Description

The Breakdown

Gabe Williams's dream is to be a radio DJ.  But what he wants more than anything is to actually be a guy.  A regular guy with regular guy problems, who can like girl, use the men's bathroom, and go by his chosen name.  Gabe was born a boy...but has lived in a girl's body the last eighteen years.  Being trans gender isn't something people in his family and community know how to deal's not even really something Gabe knows how to deal with, but it's time to figure out who he really is and live the life he desperately wants.

The Awesome

This isn't the first trans gender book I've read.  Over six years ago I was assigned Luna by Julie Anne Peters.  That particular book drove me crazy.  It was dark, horrifying,, and about the bleakest example of family life that I've read to date.  Beautiful Music for Ugly Children paints a different picture.  This is a story of hope and acceptance, of family and friendship, and really, just possibilities.  Cronn-Mills does an excellent job of portraying hurt and fear.  She doesn't villain-ize parents who mourn the loss of a daughter.  Instead, she paints a picture of love and healing.  She gives Gabe real teenage problems to work through during his time of discovery and change, with real hopes and dreams, and real obsessions.  Gabe travels this new journey through a world of music, and when music is involved it's bound to be awesome.

The Not So Awesome

I don't really have a lot to fill in here.  This seems to be happening a lot lately.  I had trouble with the first half of the books.  I couldn't help thinking that this is just another GLBTQ story with terrible parents and a one-tracked protagonist, but Cronn Mills really surprised me.  She switched things up by showing time heals wounds and communication knocks down barriers.  She also switched things up by giving Gabe something to strive for beyond just his identity.  He didn't want it to define him, and it wasn't all about him.  He just wanted to be and create a future that would allow that.

So, yeah, pretty good book.  I wish I could summon song titles and artists into my head at any particular moment.  I wish I had the world's coolest neighbor filling my home with the sounds of rock n' roll greats.  I hope that teens who are facing similiar struggles and trials find this book and see there is hope.  

Favorite Quotes "You know, life is just programmed chaos.  Everybody starts out on one side - that's the programmed part.  But then chaos happens, and our album flips.  We get fat or thin, or dye our hair and pierce our nose.  But those are just our outsides.  Our insides are still beautiful, even if we think we're ugly children."

Similar Titles Luna by Julie Anne Peters, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

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