Review of “Beautiful Music For Ugly Children” by Kristin Cronn-Mills

Last night at 8pm I started reading this book. It took me 3 chapters to get into it but then I didn’t put it down (/go to sleep) until I finished it. I had to find out what happened to the protagonist.

Gabe, who a few months before announced to his family and best friend he should no longer be referred to as Elizabeth, is struggling to get through the last months of high school and summer before moving to the Cities to pursue his dream of being a radio DJ. When his DJ/music mentor neighbor gets him an internship at a community radio station, Gabe has a chance to shine. His listener fan club, the Ugly Children Brigade, leave tributes to his show all over the town. But not everyone is enthusiastic that Gabe turns out to be a “weird” girl who used to go to their high school. When an enraged ex-fan outs him on Facebook, Gabe has to confront his B-side, the dream of living life as a man. Only with family issues and violent ex-classmates, it sometimes ends up being a nightmare.

While some of the emotional scenes seemed a little bit forced or out-of-nowhere, at least in the beginning, by the end the characters’ relationships felt more genuine. Everything doesn’t resolve itself perfectly or tie up neatly, which is the more realistic ending I enjoy. The music references fit so well into the plot, and if the story hadn’t been so engaging, I might have stopped reading to find the songs to listen to when they were mentioned. And the chapter titles about Elvis are hysterical.

What I love most about the book is that Gabe is awesome. So intrinsic to his identity is whether he’s showing his A side (Elizabeth) or B side (Gabe), but as a reader I love the whole person. As Gabe has to keep pointing out, he didn’t change when he announced he no longer wanted to be called Elizabeth. He asked people’s perceptions to change. Biological sex aside, we all have parts of us that are “male” or “female” as defined by culture. We all have pieces of us that we’re proud of and ones we really can’t stand. We have to come to terms with all these different sections of ourselves, no matter what they are.

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