Thursday, June 21, 2012

A search for identity

You know the phrase "You've got a face for radio?" That's how Gabe feels about himself in Beautiful Music for Ugly Children. Gabe has a weekly late night radio show on a community station and develops quite a following. However, he is an outcast at school, because at school he's Elizabeth, a female-to-male transgender teenager. Gabe is struggling to find his identity and share it with others. His parents are not the most supportive, but luckily his friend Paige and next-door neighbor John are by his side.

As Gabe's senior year of high school winds down, he looks toward his future as a male. At the same time, some of his classmates and fans are making a connection that he is really Elizabeth, that "lesbo chick" from school. What happens when Gabe is confronted by peers who see him as an abomination?

When I read the description of this book on Netgalley, I wondered how the author could make Gabe's character relatable to non-transgender people. Instead of making the book all about Gabe's gender identity, Kirstin Cronn-Mills includes themes that everyone can relate to: being a teenager, conflicts with parents, trying to figure out "what's next," and how to find one's voice. I felt for Gabe because it's hard enough to go through all the regular teenage "stuff" without having to face the potential backlash from others for being transgendered. I felt that Gabe was authentic and likable and I liked how the different story lines came together but didn't tie up neatly, because when does life end up neatly?

The musical references in this book are amazing. Gabe is a total music nerd, and his neighbor John is even more so. I think the overarching theme of music is great, but I don't know if potential readers will identify with the idea of having a radio show. Do teenagers still listen to the radio? With MP3s and satellite radio pervasive, I hope that "community radio" is still relatable.

I think this book will appeal to teens facing gender transitions of their own, but I would also give it to anyone who is trying to figure out their identity. Honestly, I don't know how well it will circulate at the library, but I think it is important to have on the shelf. I also applaud Ms. Cronn-Mills for including resources and support groups in the back matter of her book.

This month's School Library Journal has a focus on serving LGBTQ teens with an extensive list of books, and I think Beautiful Music for Ugly Children fits neatly on it.

This book is being published by Flux Books in October.

Ex libris,


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