Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by 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 side--not heard as often, but just as good.
It's time to let my B side play. From Goodreads
I first heard about Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills during LGBT+ April, run by Cayce of Niji Feels (then Fighting Dreamer) and Laura Plus Books, and actually won my copy in a giveaway during the event. It received so much praise during the month, I was really interested to read it. There was just one thing that made me wary; although I have a fairly eclectic taste in music, I don't have great knowledge of music in general, or major interest in music outside of the songs themselves. Would I get this book, or would it go on about things I have no clue about? Happily, I had nothing to worry about, and Beautiful Music was a brilliant read!
Gabe is mad about music, it's his whole life. He spends a lot of his time hanging out with his old neighbour, John, listening to music, and hearing John's tales of his time as a DJ. John has managed to get Gabe a slot on the local community radio station, and so starts Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, his own radio show. The only thing is, not many people know him as Gabe - not even John. Gabe only recently came out as a trans male to his family and best friend a few months back. Everyone else knows him as Liz. His family are having trouble coming to terms with it, and, despite not knowing he's trans, he has been bullied for quite a while at school for not dressing like a "regular" girl. But on his show, he can be himself, right? That is until one listener finds out that Gabe was known as Liz before he graduated, and outs him to all his fans on Facebook. And then the threats begin.
Beautiful Music is a really great story! Gabe is such a great character! He is brave and wonderful! He's a typical teenager; he's really into his music, he has girl problems, he gets excited by the awesome opportunities that come his way, and... he's just wonderful! I loved his voice, his humour, his relationship with John. He's just a really nice guy. And despite the fact this book gets quite serious more than once, it's mostly an uplifting, feel good book, and left me smiling.
I don't want to spoil the story, so I'm not going to go too much into the plot, but I will talk about the things I enjoyed. The relationship between John and Gabe is wonderful. John is 71, and a radio legend. For Gabe, who lives right next door to him, he's one of his closest friends; he's his mentor and he's family. John doesn't treat Gabe like a child, and Gabe doesn't treat John like a doddering old man. They learn from each other, they debate and argue about music, and share vinyl, CDs and cassettes. John will captivate Gabe with his stories from his time as a DJ, and Gabe will listen raptly. There's is a beautiful relationship!
I also loved the relationship between Gabe and his best friend Paige. They have been best friends since kindergarten, and despite only finding out a few months before the book starts that Gabe is trans, Paige stand by her friend. Their relationship is just so brilliant. There are moments where things get rocky for multiple reasons, but you can just tell there is that solid foundation of love that their friendship is built on, and it's wonderful seeing them together. When they're there for each other, when they're joking and laughing together. It's so lovely to see such a strong friendship - despite the issues they deal with in the book.
There's one character I have to mention. Heather Graves. She's wonderful. Her sexual orientation isn't discussed, but she is attracted to Gabe at the start of the book, when to most people Gabe is still Liz, and despite what most people think of him then, she seems to accept him as he is, even though she doesn't know him all that well. And when she knows Liz is now Gabe, she's still interested. It doesn't make a difference to her. It reads like it's not to do with her sexuality, and it's not to do with Gabe's gender, it's simply to do with Heather being attracted to this individual person, to Gabe. Again, I don't want to discuss the plot for spoiler reasons, but I think it's just fantastic that a character like her exists in YA fiction. More characters who see and are attracted to people rather than genders, please!
Beautiful Music is a really wonderful book. There are some really grim and disgusting moments, but there are so many beautiful and wonderful moments, too. Hopeful moments. Beautiful Music is an incredible story, and if you like LGBTQ YA, I implore you to read it!
Published: 8th October 2012
Kirstin Cronn-Mills' Website