Kelly's Reviews > Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills
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's review
Oct 25, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: ya-fiction, read-in-2012
Read from May 11 to 12, 2012


This is a beautiful book. Really.

Gabe was born Elizabeth, and until a couple of months ago, lived as Elizabeth, fighting back everything that he felt was true about himself. But he finally decides it's time to own being Gabe, and it's through the help of working as a DJ for the community radio station that he's finally better able to accept himself -- and work toward having other people accept him, too.

It's the Midwest and while it's not small-town Midwest (it's a good size town of 40,000), there are certain beliefs that permeate Gabe's world and impact it pretty profoundly. His mom and dad have a hard time accepting him as Gabe (despite loving him and accepting him in their hearts, they still want to call him Liz, thus continuing to hold him back); school is a place where he's insulted and taunted for being different; people actually want to hurt him because of his difference (more because of their own fear of anything that's not black and white); and he struggles with where to go from here not only in terms of work (he's graduating and while he dreams of being a DJ, it's a dying art) but also in terms of relationships. Does he go after his heart and pursue his best friend Paige? Does he dare break the friendship in an attempt to forge a romance? What about Mara, who was the first girl to call in to his radio show and profess her feelings for his radio persona (which isn't a persona at all)? Or Heather?

While the transsexual storyline is at the heart of the book, I found what stood out were the relationships here (of course they all go back to the essential questions of sexuality and of gender and whether or not those things matter period). Gabe and his relationship with John is different from many I've read in YA, and it got me a bit choked up more than once. I found his relationship with Paige dynamic and authentic; as much as she was at times scared or worried for him, she loved him fiercely in the way he deserved. There is a real vulnerability that exists between the two of them and reading these moments made my breath a little unsteady. I worried so hard for both of them because their worlds felt so fragile, even though it shouldn't have; I think because the story was through Gabe's lens I was led to worry about him and Paige a little more. (view spoiler) I really fell in love with these characters.

The thing about Gabe that got me is that he doesn't think he deserves anything. He doesn't believe he deserves to be happy, deserves to be loved, deserves to be accepted for who he is. Gabe is hard NOT to like as a reader, and those moments where (view spoiler).

I also loved John's story line and how much he looked at Gabe not as a replacement son but as a friend, as an equal. (view spoiler) John really sets Gabe up on a great path for the future in many, many ways. The acceptance and love he offers Gabe without any questions was such a contrast to what Gabe experiences at school and, at times, home.

The music story line here is fresh, and I loved the A-side/B-side metaphor woven throughout. Aside from the music references that are blatant, there are a ton of smaller references I loved. There was even a shout out to B-96 which made me smile (that was the radio station of my teen life...or would have been were I one of those cool teens). This book is soundtrack-ready.

This is a story about Gabe, who is transsexual, but it's not a story about Gabe, the transsexual. There's a big difference. (view spoiler) At the center, this is a story about being a person, and being a person who accepts that they deserve to be the person who they are. No question.

Cronn-Mills writes the teen voice so well, and maybe it's because my roots are Midwestern, but she nails life in this part of the country for teens. I love how these kids work and their jobs are a big part of who they are, too. For all of this, BMfUC is a quieter book, but it is one that will resonate with readers, and I think they'll identify easily with Gabe -- the questions of who you are and who you can be are never limited to one experience.

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Reading Progress

05/11 page 50
17.0% "Pretty sure KCM writes some of the best voices in YA." 2 comments
05/11 page 200
69.0% "I've gotten a little misty eyed maybe already more than once."
05/05 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Anna  (Bananas!) Great review! Looking forward to reading it.

Jules Hucke Love this review!!

Nadia "At the center, this is a story about being a person, and being a person who accepts that they deserve to be the person who they are. No question." YES, this describes the book PERFECTLY!

Awesome review.

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