Author: Kirsten Cronn-Mills
Lady Gaga is the new Elvis because she’s got a crazy wardrobe too. Conan O’Brien is the new Elvis and he has the hair to prove it. Justin Beiber is the new Elvis only shorter and a lot more annoying. Elvis is the new Elvis because duh, there’s only one Elvis.
Gabe loves his weekly radio show. He loves the music and he loves that he can be himself and not Liz like it says on his birth certificate. When he focuses on music it’s easier to deal with the fact that his brain doesn’t match up with his body, the relationship he wants with his best friend is impossible, and his only other close friend is his elderly neighbor who shares his love of music. When the show and a date gone wrong push his identity into the open the threats and violence might overshadow what he sees as his only chance to get out of his hometown and his chance to live as himself.
Gabe, born Elizabeth, is a trans-man stuck in a small Minnesota town with music, especially Elvis, as his main comfort. Gabe’s strong voice and the complexity and realism of his relationships make Beautiful Music for Ugly Children a winner.
Gabe’s desire to simply live his life as his real self highlights issues many of us would take for granted like being able to go by your preferred name on the job or use a public restroom without being attacked. Some of Gabe’s challenges, such as navigating romantic vs platonic love with a close friend and planning his future in conflict with his parent’s expectations are universal though somewhat more complicated for a recently out transgendered person.
Another element that makes this such a powerful story is the roundness of Cronn-Mills secondary characters. Gabe’s parents are struggling with what they tell themselves is a relatively recent change in their child, while conflicted best friend Paige knows Gabe has been struggling with this for a long time. As a reader you can clearly understand why Gabe and Paige are friends and what it means to both of them. John, Gabe’s musical mentor is supportive and grandfatherly, though we learn that family hasn’t always been his priority.
Beautiful Music For Ugly Children is a powerful look through the eyes of a transgender teen, and Cronn-Mills provides a well done author’s note at the end to educate readers without talking down to them.
Though novels about transgender teens are rare there are several excellent choices including I Am J by Cris Beam, Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger, and of course Luna by Julie Anne Peters.
Bonus Program Idea:
Wouldn’t it be fun to have teens work out their own playlist for a theme show like Gabe’s?