- Age Range: 12 and up
- Grade Level: 7 - 12
- Lexile Measure: HL600L (What's this?)
- Paperback: 271 pages
- Publisher: Flux; Original edition (October 8, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780738732510
- ISBN-13: 978-0738732510
- ASIN: 0738732516
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 52 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #97,191 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Beautiful Music for Ugly Children Paperback – October 8, 2012
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From School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-Elizabeth Williams knows he has always been a guy, and if he can only get through graduation in a few weeks, he can begin his new life as Gabe. He is transitioning, but his family refuses to acknowledge him, and his classmates bully him. The only person who supports him is his BFF, Paige, and, predictably, he has a crush on her but can't take a chance on ruining their friendship. Gabe is a music geek, and his ultra-cool, grandfatherly neighbor John, a former DJ, lands him a community radio show, Beautiful Music for Ugly Children. Gabe DJs as himself, and after working up the courage to tell John, who is fine with him being a "triangle," they put together a show about A sides and B sides, which becomes popular with the Ugly Children Brigade fan club and a running theme in the book. But when Gabe has a date with one of his fans, and she recognizes him as Liz, word spreads and some fans drop out of the Facebook club, while others get violent. When John is critically hurt defending Gabe at an Ugly Children event, the offenders are arrested, John's long-lost daughter shows up, Gabe's parents have a change of heart, and Paige and Gabe may have a chance together. While this transgender coming-of-age tale wraps up a bit too quickly, the quirky relationship between Gabe and John and their shared music obsession elevates this story above the average problem novel.-Betty S. Evans, Missouri State University, Springfieldα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Gabe has a secret. He is really Liz. Born a female, he is cautiously beginning his transition to male. Only his parents and his lifelong best friend, Paige, know. But when a girl at school, where he is callously called “that lesbo chick,” discovers the truth and outs Gabe, things become difficult, if not downright dangerous. In the meantime, Gabe is a part-time DJ on the local community radio station, where his show, “Beautiful Music for Ugly Children,” is fast becoming an underground hit. Will his fans reject him when they, too, discover the truth? What, as Gabe thinks in difficult circumstances, would Elvis do? Obviously, there are nuggets of humor in an otherwise serious story. Cronn-Mills’ thoughtful book joins a small but growing body of literature that gives faces to this traditionally invisible minority. Despite a few incidents that require a willing suspension of disbelief, the story is a model of integrity, and Gabe is an always appealing character. Grades 9-12. --Michael Cart
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“When 45s were around, most djs didn't care about B sides but some were big hits…” “when you think about it, I'm like a 45. Liz is my A side, the song everybody knows, and Gabe is my B side, not played as often but just as good.”
Things are starting to come together for Gabe. Once he leaves high school, he vows to say goodbye to Liz, his A side, forever. Whether he actually lands his dream job of being a paid disc jockey, heads off to college, or just slaves away at minimum wage, he knows that he is finally going to be able to live as Gabe 24/7. It won't matter anymore if his parents continue to fail at ever making eye contact again, or if the kids at school forever have him pegged as a freak.
But being Gabe on the late night community radio station, and being Gabe in the same hometown where everyone still remembers him as Liz prove to be two completely different things. Gabe isn't always sure he's up to the challenge. Is being Gabe worth all the risk and pain?
This is a decent young adult - coming of age/ coming out story.
It has some good things going for it. I like seeing a trans guy as a protagonist. The running metaphor throughout, about living a B side life, ties into Gabe’s music obsession and is a successful way to relate that feeling of starting a new chapter in his life. The book also touches on some of the family struggles a person coming out as trans can face. His parents have a hard time embracing Gabe, thinking that it means letting go of Liz, and have a hard time comprehending that, really, he has been Gabe all along.
There isn't anything I really disliked about the novel. I just felt kind of underwhelmed, I guess. The story is very simple, the characters are pretty surface level, for the most part. Everything is pretty predictable and formulaic. Gabe and his mentor hung out listening to and talking about music, but their dialogue and banter didn't really have any chemistry. Gabe is having crushes on some girls, and may even be in love with a particular girl, and again… there just doesn't seem to be any real chemistry. I guess I wanted deeper characters with more authentic voices.
I can recommend it to fans of YA novels who are specifically looking for Trans coming out stories. It is a decent if not outstanding example of the genre.
On the project scales it fairs so-so.
Up first is The Queer Counterculture Visibility Scale, which I made up as a way to quantify how much a book showed the stories of less visible members of the community. It does okay on this scale. I liked that the POV character is a trans-guy. He's white and seems financially comfortable… though he does have to consider the financial aspect of any medical transition, and can't just take it as a given that it will happen for him. One side character had a pretty open sexuality, possibly bi or pan… but it wasn't really explored or viewed all that positively. Because trans stories are still underrepresented I'm going to peg this book at a:
3 out of 5 stars
The second scale, my Genre Expectation scale, rates about the same. This a perfectly acceptable example of a YA coming of age/ coming out story. It didn't really wow me, but it didn't bore or offend me.
3 out of 5 stars
Oh, but this is a story about gender identity and transgender dysphoria, you say. Well, yes. But as all transgender kids will tell you, "I'm so much more than a person caught in the wrong body." The music orientation of this novel seriously makes that clear.
There's a lot I'd like to write on all the issues "Beautiful Music for Ugly Children" brings up. I absolutely do not want to spoil this awesome book for anyone. I have given it four stars and not five. I can't directly explain why except to say that I would have liked to see the understanding of maleness come out stronger in certain confrontational moments. Didn't have to be definitive or macho, but an awareness of what that piece of the puzzle necessitates is a very big deal in the world of boys.
Mark my words, though, if you know people who are either interested in transgender issues or people who should be but aren't yet, this is a great starter book. I personally have to deal with the M2F side of the equation in my extended family, but I got so much out of Beautiful Music that I am going to give it to others in the family who aren't quite as able to understand these issues as they need to be.
Lastly, just let me say, the writing here is superb. The storytelling first rate. Kirstin Cronn-Mills is a writer to follow.
So, BUY THE BOOK and read it with gusto. You won't be sorry. If you're like me, you won't be able to put it down either.
Christopher Hawthorne Moss