Book Review: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

Gabe was born Elizabeth but has always felt different.  Even though he’s physically a girl, he knows who he really is.  However, his tiny Minnesota town isn’t quite so accepting.  When he gets a gig hosting a late-night radio show, he finally gets to be himself.  Through the show–Beautiful Music for Ugly Children–Gabe allows his true self to shine through.

Despite not being transgender herself, Kirstin Cronn-Mills wrote a moving and often heartfelt story about a transgender character that feels both delicate and authentic.  While there are certain risks an author takes in telling a story that isn’t quite theirs, Cronn-Mills tries to be faithful to the authenticity of her characters first, and the result is quite successful.  Gabe’s voice never feels appropriated or inauthentic, and he remains completely sympathetic throughout.

What works best about Cronn-Mills’s story is the fact that Gabe’s coming-0ut story is only part of the narrative present in the book.  There are vivid characters, fantastic talks about music, and many completely real high school experiences to round out the story of Gabe’s senior year.

All of the main characters are well-rounded, but this is particularly true in the case of John, the radio station manager who befriends Gabe and offers a surprising amount of warmth as Gabe struggles to come out.  His shared enthusiasm for music and his support of Gabe’s transition provide warmth to the story, which takes a dark turn about halfway through the novel.

Although there are some plot contrivances here, this is a strong debut well worth a reader’s time.  Strong characters, snappy pacing, and a smattering of musical pop culture make this one entertaining as well as enlightening.  Highly recommended.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills. Flux: 2012. Electronic galley accepted for review via NetGalley. Read for 2012 Cybils Round 1 Panel.

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