If you're going to read a young adult book about a transgender teenager, think about making it this one.
This is a beautiful, wonderful book. I found myself crying several times, both from happiness and sadness. It was just that kind of book.
Gabe was born Elizabeth, but that isn't who he is. Liz might be his A-side, the side of him that everyone knows, but Gabe is his B-side, and it's time that B-side got some air time. With a radio show taking off, a radio show where he can be Gabe and no one else, it's time for Gabe to finally come out to the world. In his home town, will people be accepting - or anything but?Beautiful Music for Ugly Children
is written in first person, and it's done really well. Gabe has a strong voice from the start, like he's stamping his identity all over the pages of the book. Longer scenes were broken up occasionally with short, one sentence scenes. These were pretty powerful, like punches to the stomach. Especially one towards the end. I think, if you read it, you'll all know what I mean.
This is like a showcase of the amazing acceptance that can come from us as human beings, and the most horrific bigotry. Despite some horrible scenes, it was actually a mostly positive book showing all the good that is in people. In books about LGBT youth, this is actually a rarity, so I loved
that is was so positive. Sure, it showed all the confusion and doubt that plagued Gabe, and the dangers of coming out, but in the end it was just so overwhelmingly positive that everything was worth it.
And, you know, I'm glad he didn't win the radio competition. It just made it seem so much more like reality. There were things that were more important to him.
It was also a story about Gabe (who happens to be transgender), not just about his transgenderedness. The story would work almost as well if Gabe was biologically male (I'm sure the bigots in the novel would have found something else to target him about). This made me happy, as, as a rule, I don't enjoy 'issue' novels.
I loved Gabe's friendship with Paige, and his friendship with John. Both of the friendships were very different, yet both were equally as strong. Paige and John were very important characters in the story, as without the support network, I'm not sure Gabe would have become who he was in the end.
Cronn-Mills also portrayed Gabe's family very well. Not as evil, horrible parents (and brother), but as ordinary people coming to terms with the fact that their daughter is now a son. That's got to be hard to come to terms with.
The author's note at the back was also very welcome. Cronn-Mills explains that transgender is an umbrella term, and that many people fit under it that do not match Gabe's experience at all. Gabe is just one story. She also reminds people not to label anyone - some people don't fit into anyone's label, and gender is a very fluid, ever-morphing concept. If you had to put a label on him, Gabe would (probably) be transsexual, as he explicitly mentions surgery and wanting to transition (biologically) from one sex to another.
But the best thing to do is not put a label on him at all. Gabe is just Gabe, and this is his story.