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A trans teen’s local southern Minnesota radio show inspires an unlikely cult following in Kirstin Cronn-Mills‘ quiet coming-of-age novel Beautiful Music for Ugly Children (Flux).
Seventeen-year-old Gabe knows he’s a boy—he’s known that for a long time. And while his new job as a DJ for a local radio station allows him to be himself as he is, at home his parents struggle to come to terms with losing their daughter Elizabeth.
It’s John—Gabe’s neighbor and mentor, “the oldest DJ in the universe”—who becomes Gabe’s saving grace. A 70-year-old chain-smoker with a southern drawl, John’s influence on Gabe is refreshing and inspiring. He quickly takes on the role of Gabe’s parent (or “uniparent” as Gabe might describe him).
It’s not long before the issue of Gabe’s identity comes to a head as he faces the challenges of the average American teenager—falling in love, hating your parents, and embracing self-acceptance—as well as the painstaking struggles of coming out as trans in a suburban high school environment.
Cronn-Mills delivers a believable first-person narrative in Gabe, yet the novel isn’t without flaws. Gabe’s narrative voice is often inviting if not charming—especially as the narrative arc begins to settle. Early on he quips, “If testosterone shots turn me into an asshole I’m going to be pissed.” Though other times he is anachronistic, using phrases like “Boogie on people” and “Claim your groove”.
Music is Gabe’s religion, yet we never experience his conversion. Similarly, Elvis is a reoccurring theme that feels forced early on and which creates a slight disconnect later when Gabe begins to hear Elvis’ voice.
Nonetheless, similar to Cris Beam’s inspiring I Am J, Cronn-Mills has written a necessary novel about a character who will be undoubtedly embraced by trans questioning young readers and LGBTQ literary advocates.
Lastly, Lisa Novak’s stunning cover design should not go unnoticed. This is easily one of the best YA book covers of the year.
Beautiful Music for Ugly Children
By Kirstin Cronn-Mills
Paperback, 9780738732510, 288 pp.