Thursday, October 25, 2012

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

Title: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children
Author:  Kirsten Cronn-Mills
Publisher: Flux
Release Date: Oct 8, 2012
Rating: 3/5

Cover Impressions:
The cover grabbed me enough to make me take a look at the synopsis, so that is something.  I like the graffiti feel of it, but would prefer for it to be a little more gritty, like an image taken from an overpass - raw and real.

The Gist:
Beautiful Music for Ugly Children chronicles a few, particularly eventful months in the life of Gabe, a teenaged transexual boy.  Gabe was born Elizabeth and has recently "come out" to his parents about his true sexuality and his decision to stop hiding.  He has also begun working on a late night radio show which forces him into the spotlight and endangers himself, his friends and his family when some people decide that Gabe would be better off staying hidden.

I chose to request this galley because I have read so little YA fiction that features trans characters.  As a teacher, I am always trying to find ways to better understand the struggles that my students might be going through and I hoped Beautiful Music for Ugly Children might provide some insight.  This was one of the books high points.  It was interesting and sometimes moving to watch the characters as they struggled with Liz's decision to start living as Gabe.  There was some conflict between he and his best friend as she tried to decide what their new relationship would look like and where the boundary lines lay.  There was also a struggle in his parents that I, as a mom, could understand.  Having raised Elizabeth from a little girl, her parents displayed feelings of anger, disbelief and guilt as they struggled to accept her as Gabe and to change the way that their family interacted.  It is easy for books like this to try to do too much and to make a complete 180 from emotional wreak to warm, loving family, but I feel like Beautiful Music for Ugly Children didn't make this leap and that it showed, instead, a believable level of growth on the part of the parents.

This novel had some great potential and it touched on some very important themes.  However, I feel that it could have done more.  There was the underlying threat of violence but this never felt entirely real.  If the author had chosen to start off small and build toward the ultimate showdown, I think it would have felt more realistic.  There was also the tendency for things to be a little too easy.  There just happens to be an automatic audience to a brand new radio show that is so enthralled by the DJ's music choices that they take on tasks to please him?  There just happens to be a radio contest looking for a young, fresh DJ to launch their career?  The transgendered kid comes out and is immediately embraced by his (hot) best friend and pursued by his (also hot) classmate?  Opportunities seemed to fall in Gabe's lap and things were a little too convienent for my taste.

I also had a little trouble connecting with the character of Gabe.  I liked him, sure.  But I didn't really CARE about him.  There was something I couldn't put my finger on stopped me from emphasizing with him.  Perhaps it was the length.  This is a short novel, and there was A LOT crammed into those pages.  That didn't leave a lot of room for character development or back-story.  I really would have preferred if the novel started with Liz, a closeted transgendered kid, and then chronicled her transition to Gabe and coming out to her family and friends, rather than to have started after all that occurred.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children fell short of my expectations, but was still a good read that provided some insight into the feelings of a teen in transition. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:

16 and up
Gender: Either
Sex: Kissing, Talk of Erections, Allusions to Sex
Violence: Threats, Sexual Violence, Attack with a Baseball Bat
Inappropriate Language: LOTS! Bitch, Ass, Dick, Shit, Carpet Muncher, Goddamn, Jesus, Pussy
Substance Use/Abuse: Smoking, Underage Drinking


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