Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirsten Cronn-Mills
Publication Date: October 8, 2012
Target audience: Mature Young Adult
Keywords: music, LGBT, bullying, life after high school, acceptance, radio, Elvis
Format read: eBook from NetGalley (Thanks!)
Summary: Gabe is so looking forward to the end of high school and starting fresh. He recently came out to his parents as transgendered and is slowly trying to make his way in the world, one song on the radio at a time.
“Maybe there will be a day when this shit will be over and I can just be a dude with normal regular stuff in his life.” – Gabe
Many of us can agree that music can be a haven, a safe place.
For Gabe, who was born Liz, working the late shift at a public access radio station is a place where he can be himself — sharing the music with a small group of people who are just about as passionate about music and its history as he is. John, Gabe’s next door “grandfather-figure” neighbor, has hooked him up with this gig and also serves as his music guru; the two staying up all hours of the night sifting through his extensive vinyl collection like little kids. Gabe’s on-air discussion of our “A-side/B-sides” becomes a theme woven through the entire story; a theme that is not only true to his whole being, but one that also manages to connect us all.
I applaud Cronn-Mills for welcoming us into Gabe’s story, post-coming out. I thought that was a fresh and bold choice. It’s not surprising that his parents cannot bring themselves to fully accept who their daughter really is. Gabe just wants them to be able to look him in the eye but it is understandably tough and the depiction of their behavior and distance was never over the top, did not monopolize the plot of the book… it was just naturally there. (In many situations, Gabe proves to be impressingly patient, knowing that what he is going through can be difficult and confusing to those around him.)
While Gabe is supported by both his best friend, Paige, and mentor John, he knows that not everyone is going to accept him. He can’t wait to escape his town, move to the city, and work for a radio station. When a contest opportunity pops up (or, rather, John enrolls him), Gabe sees his ticket to the future and even participates under the name Gabe. At the same time, his following is growing on the radio (there’s even a Facebook group!) and a girl he knows from school begins calling in and suggests meeting.
This is where we have a problem. Because 1) Gabe is in love with Paige. This was heartbreakingly sweet for me. They two had such amazing chemistry and I just never knew if it would work. The second problem was that everyone in school thought Gabe was Liz, including his date and he wasn’t sure if agreeing to meet her would blow up in his face. (Whew!) Teenagers worry about dates all the time but it seemed like Gabe always had to triple worry because of other people’s judgements and unwillingness to accept him for who he was. I could tell it was exhausting but it never brought Gabe down.
I’ve read many LBGT books this year, and Beautiful Music for Ugly Children is a moving story full of the ups and downs of life, totally magnified. Each chapter begins with clever quips pertaining to Elvis (i.e. “Harry Potter is the new Elvis because they’re both magic”) and the music knowledge seeping from the book was so impressive (the research must have been extensive!). The music genres featured were so vast that I really wish I had a playlist handy to listen to while Gabe worked his own magic.
I really liked how the author was not focusing on some horrific event and how it affected this character and focused more of an every day account and how certain circumstances affected his thought process, decision making, and also the leaps Gabe had to take to be the person who always knew he was. I really felt for him in his struggles. (And really wanted the boys who were threatening him to be exiled to another planet for their smallmindness and insecurities.) I came to care for him so much, enjoy his humor, and just wish the best for him.
BMFUG is one of those books I wish could’ve gone on forever. It has engaging characters, sheds lights on a subject that is not brought to the forefront enough, and also illustrates the varying degrees of acceptance in this world — our own and the people around us.
Here’s hoping you take a chance on Gabe too.