Xan West's Reviews > Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills
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May 30, 2017

did not like it
bookshelves: dnf, nope, major-tw, need-trans-review

DNF at 12%

I found this book to be harmful to me as a trans reader, so much that I DNF'd, particularly as I understand from other reviews by trans readers that it gets worse, not better.

This book presents trans life as inexorable misery with no hope or allies, full of bullying, misgendering, and gender policing, where even your best friend who supposedly supports you and has your back as a trans guy, will still coerce you to paint your toenails pink and come out as trans when you don't want to.

We are told that the trans MC is invested in surviving, but not shown where that resilience & investment is coming from, how it's found. If you are going to have readers sit in bleakness like that, you also really need to show the roots of hope. In depth. This feels like a performance of the misery of being a trans teenager, for cis readers. Who could think this is good for trans teen readers?

My experiences of misery as a queer trans person have never been one-note like this. It doesn't feel real. We have complex lives, things intertwine and co-exist. Even when there's a pile-on in my life, I'm doing things to manage it, to survive, to find hope and connection, looking for pockets of comfort. Yes, being misgendered every day sucks and is awful. And there can be hope and joy and connection and escape ad fantasy in a life that contains misgendering and trans oppression.

Telling stories full of inexorable bleakness are about evoking pity and distance and dehumanization and othering. They don't actually build empathy, which is the kindest read I have of the books intended purpose (which it does not achieve). I know it was written for cis people, but it is not good for cis readers either, to read this kind of depiction of trans lives.

It's also boring, and not very well written. Gabe doesn't really come through. It's like a series of accounts about his gender but I don't witness him having feelings or thoughts or reactions to these situations and difficulties. It doesn't have a strong voice or good characterization. For example, we are told Gabe has a crush. But I don't feel it with him, don't get to witness his yearning or frustration or fear or embarrassment or despair or whatever he feels. I don't have a sense of him as a person.

I worry that trans readers dream too small. That we take scraps and feel grateful because at least we are tossed something. At least someone acknowledges us. I want us to dream bigger. I want trans YA with compelling voice and riveting plot and no deadnaming and trans teen characters who have friends who actually have their backs. I want trans YA where trans teens know/meet other trans people and are connected to community and have complex arcs and are deeply characterized. This book fails to do any of this, and these things are essential.

Trigger Warnings
I cannot give full trigger warnings, as I DNF'd.
(view spoiler)
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Reading Progress

January 7, 2017 – Shelved
January 7, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
May 26, 2017 – Started Reading
May 26, 2017 –
page 17
6.49% "Flinched the first time Gabe gets deadnamed. Hate that his BFF teases about painting his toenails when she knows he is a trans guy. Feels weird that he's into such old fashioned stuff but I am not a teen so can't speak to that. I liked Elvis as a teen in the 80s. But...why does he so many yrs later?"
May 26, 2017 –
page 17
6.49% "Gabe doesn't really come thru. It's like a series of accounts abt his gender but I don't witness him having feelings or thoughts or reactions to these situations & difficulties. I am worried abt this."
May 26, 2017 –
page 17
6.49% "Ex of the lack of strong voice in this book: we are told Gabe has a crush. But I don't feel it with him, don't get to witness his yearning or frustration or fear or embarassment or despair or whatever he feels. I don't have a sense of him as a person."
May 29, 2017 –
page 19
7.25% "I know its a very teenager thing to do but I hate that his cis BFF basically uses extortion to coerce Gabe into agreeing to come out as trans to someone."
May 30, 2017 –
page 22
8.4% "Why do we have to watch the family misgender him? What is this weird phrasing abt "Gabe arriving in March"? Why is the friend indignant abt misgendering one sec & pressuring him to paint his toenails pink the next?"
May 30, 2017 –
page 22
8.4% "I mean, I guess I get why he might let her paint his toenails pink, maybe? But it's like this super painful thing that's just tossed in there with no feelings or reaction. Ditto the misgendering. So painful to read, all of it."
May 30, 2017 –
page 22
8.4% "I honestly don't know if I am going to make it thru this book."
May 30, 2017 –
page 32
12.21% "So now a full chapter of queer hating and gender policing bullying. I have a feeling its just the beginning of the bullying too."
May 30, 2017 –
page 32
12.21% "Being trans, even being closeted and being trans, is not full on misery all the time where everyone treats you badly & your whole life is misgendering. This book seems to think so, though."
May 30, 2017 – Shelved as: dnf
May 30, 2017 – Shelved as: nope
May 30, 2017 – Shelved as: major-tw
May 30, 2017 – Finished Reading
June 6, 2017 – Shelved as: need-trans-review

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

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Nicole (new)

Nicole Field OMG that TROPE. I hate it.


message 2: by Ashlaya (new) - added it

Ashlaya Argh I'm sad now. I wanted to read this book to feel better about my life, ah ah. Like, reading books where people live bad things but PREVAIL ANYWAY is great? Or when it's written in a way that makes you want to PREVAIL ANYWAY. (I'll stop doing this PRE- ok I stop)


message 3: by Xan (new) - rated it 1 star

Xan West Ashlaya wrote: "Argh I'm sad now. I wanted to read this book to feel better about my life, ah ah. Like, reading books where people live bad things but PREVAIL ANYWAY is great? Or when it's written in a way that ma..."

Yeah, I definitely felt more depressed and weighed down and generally awful reading it. It did not make me want to PREVAIL ANYWAY.


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