Beautiful Music for Ugly Childrenby Kirstin Cronn-Mills
"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 sidenot heard as often, but just as good. It’s time to let my B side play. .
"Every so often a book comes along that is so sharp, so moving, so real, and so good, you want to press it into everyone's hands and say, Read this! READ THIS!" Courtney Summers, author of Cracked Up to Be and This is Not a Test
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Meet the Author
Kirstin Cronn-Mills is the author of Minnesota Book Award finalist The Sky Always Hears Me And the Hills Don’t Mind and Beautiful Music for Ugly Children. Cronn-Mills received her doctorate degree from Iowa State University and currently teaches in North Mankato, Minnesota, where she lives with her husband and son.
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“It’s 90.3, KZUK, Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, you’re listening to Gabe at this late hour right here on community radio and I’m here for my listeners. So turn it up and sit back and listen to some Def Leppard, those boys of the 70’s.” It’s Gabe turn to show his style, at least behind the mike he’s himself or who he thinks he has become. He’s telling his story beside his mentor, neighbor and great friend John who he idolizes. Few people know Gabe as Gabe, most people know him as Elizabeth but using his fifty minutes of air time, he’s finally found a medium for which he can express himself and he feels free. Gabe lives a dual life, a life he hopes to shed once high school is over in the spring. At home, his parents are adjusting to his new gender and his best friend Paige has known since grade school that Elizabeth feels more comfortable in the male role. Since hitting the airwaves, things become more gratifying yet more complicated for Gabe. There is this rush, this adrenaline that ran through my veins when Gabe took to the airwaves. Gabe becomes like a bird in the sky, carefree and soaring, rising higher and higher in the sky, each week as he prepares to on for his listeners. Gabe creates a theme for each week’s songs and his messages to his audiences become more open and honest as the weeks progress, he’s becoming free to be who he truly is. His show is remarkable with such energy and commitment. A Facebook site is created based on his show and he adds requests of his listeners to perform tasks to show their support to his show. These groupies, the Ugly Children Brigade suddenly become a part of his life. Girls, friends and unfortunately, threats now enter his life and suddenly, things aren’t all rosy. Someone rained on his parade… of course they did. I wanted so much to reach into the book and tell Gabe that he can’t please everyone, to just enjoy himself and enjoy the ride. He wasn’t hurting anyone. People can be so judgmental. The silver lining was John. He was an amazing person. His story runs deep in the book with his own life, his relationship with Gabe’s family and how supportive he is of Gabe. John helps Gabe get a job and helps him get auditioned for a talent show. John is left in the dark about Gabe’s true identity, like the rest of the world until later, which surprised me. So many great parts in this book, as Gabe truly comes to understand himself and the world around him.
Gabe, born Elizabeth, is getting ready to graduate from high school. He tells himself that he will be more honest with those around him once he graduates (meaning he will be "out" to everyone, not just his best friend Paige and his family). His gig as a DJ on a local radio station brings Gabe fans he could never imagine; his paying job at a record store brings surprises. Gabe's musical mentor, his neighbor John, plays a big role in getting Gabe to come to terms with who he is and what he wants to be. A great book for both transgender and non-transgender youth. Adult readers who happen upon the story will appreciate the musical references of their past. A caution about references to both male and female anatomy, underage drinking, homophobia, and some violence which may not be approved by some adults for younger teens. However, these references are spot-on for the topic and definitely support the storyline.
Beautiful Music for Ugly Children is an amazing, beautiful novel. The more I think about it, the more I love it. The book is about Gabe and not just about his coming out as transgender. It's about his passionate love for music, his relationships, and his anxieties and fears. There are scenes in the book that make you laugh out loud and others that make your eyes all teary. I love Gabe as a character and really like the different artists and songs that are brought up in the story. I'm a huge music fan myself so it was really nice to read about the different tunes. I honestly couldn't put the book down. I got it yesterday from the library and it was impossible for me to take breaks from the story. I wish there were more books like this one, especially in the YA genre. Beautiful Music for Ugly Children is definitely going in my favorites list and I will definitely read Kirstin Cronn-Mills' other books. I wish I could write more, but like I've said before, it's so hard for me to write reviews of books that I love so much. This is one of those times.