Gabe has always identified as a boy, but he was born with a girl’s body. With his new public access radio show gaining in popularity, Gabe struggles with romance, friendships, and parents–all while trying to come out as transgendered. An audition for a station in Minneapolis looks like his ticket to a better life in the big city. But his entire future is threatened when several violent guys find out Gabe the popular DJ is also Elizabeth from school.
I requested Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills from NetGalley because I’m drawn to books with unconventional narrators. I loved Death as a narrator in The Book Thief, Luster in The Sound and the Fury, and transgender youth narrators are still pretty rare — I was sold.
Overall, Beautiful Music for Ugly Children was a good book. It had an interesting protagonist, a good supporting cast, a believable conflict, and good pacing. There were two things that reduced my experience of this book to three stars instead of five, but I know there is plenty of room for people to enjoy this book more than I did. Beautiful Music for Ugly Children is an emotionally appealing book, and everyone can take something away from it.
The things that made this book less than perfect for me were, firstly, that the summary is a little bit misleading. It makes it seem that the music contest will be the climax of the book, but by the time it rolls around it’s almost a non-event. The book is about so much more than that, but the book’s flap copy reduces it to something predictable and pedestrian. This is a novel about how we shape our own identities, and sometimes we carve out a family for ourselves along the way. The future is important, but not at the cost of the present.
The second thing that disappointed me was that music is under-utilized in the text. Every chapter of Beautiful Music for Ugly Children is riddled with musical references, either to the history of musical culture in America or to specific songs. Your music library will undoubtedly grow a little over the course of reading this book. But as significant as music was supposed to be to the plot, I never felt that Gabe had much emotional connection to the songs he played on his radio show or at the radio contest. Cronn-Mills name-drops with songs and artists, and then moves on without fully conveying what these songs mean, what atmosphere they provide, or what their value to the story is. It’s almost like the reader is expected to either a) know the songs or b) stop reading to research the songs and then return to the book.
Although Beautiful Music for Ugly Children has its problems, it’s still a worthwhile read if you’re at all interested in unconventional protagonists. The story is beautifully told and its issues handled with sensitivity. It’s a good book for teens and lovers of YA, one that I would recommend.