“This is Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, on community radio 90.3, KZUK. I’m Gabe. Welcome to my show.”
My birth name is Elizabeth, but I’m a guy. Gabe. My parents think I’ve gone crazy and the rest of the world is happy to agree with them, but I know I’m right. I’ve been a boy my whole life.
When you think about it, I’m like a record. Elizabeth is my A side, the song everybody knows, and Gabe is my B side–not heard as often, but just as good.
It’s time to let my B side play.
I’m a sucker for any story with a main character that identifies as LGBT+ in some way, especially transgender characters since they give me something to relate to. Beautiful Music for Ugly Children certainly doesn’t disappoint.
One thing I must admit is that I always get weary when a story about a character from a minority group is written by someone who is not a part of or closely related to someone who is a part of that minority group. Seeing as this was a written cisgender woman, I had that initial pang of fear. “What if this author gets something major wrong? What if she miseducates the audience?” And of course, this is nothing personal against the author, just a general fear.
Fortunately, that fear was thrown out as I dove into Gabe’s life. She treats his character as if he were a “real man”, as everyone should, while still giving details specific to the FTM experience, such as walking around in public scared that your binder isn’t working well enough and buying your first packer/STP. (And yes, it is definitely that awkward of an experience.) Although I’m uncomfortable with the term “transsexual” for reasons, I couldn’t hold that against Cronn-Mills. And I certainly appreciate her extensive and researched explanation available in the back of the book.
While I usually roll my eyes at love triangles (a love square in this case?), this one felt more realistic and was easy to read because it wasn’t the main attraction. Romance is only good in smaller doses to me. Everyone has that thought at some point in their life that goes something like, “What if my best friend is actually, ‘the one’?” Usually, the next thought, is “Lol, nah,” and I’m glad that Paige and Gabe are able to stay best friends after that adventure.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of people like Mara out there. Not being attracted to a transgender person is fine, to each their own, but there is no need to attack them over it. And of course, we all know someone like Heather. I’m glad that she was included because after Mara’s freak out, Heather’s pursuit is a nice refresher that there will always be someone who accepts you for who you are.
The character that I did have a bit of a problem with was Paige. Not all of her was bad, but once the climax of her and Gabe’s relationship hit, it felt unnatural. I understand where the author would want to show how sometimes friends ditch their newly out transgender friends, but Paige and Gabe’s friendship felt strong enough that that was never a thought in my head. I was genuinely confused when Paige began ignoring him.
Gabe was right; they had been friends since kindergarten, and it wasn’t a problem in months before, so why now? Yes, there was a scare at her own job, but how would two losers with nothing better to do than to scare people convince her that Gabe was no longer worth her time. Furthermore, I didn’t find her turn around very believable. After Gabe yelled a few things and she just said, “You know what? You’re right. Let’s be BFFs again!” But maybe there are people out there who would do that.
The “A side/B side” metaphor is one of the biggest parts of this story that will stay with me. I love how it tied the music component in with Gabe’s transgender identity, the two biggest part of this book. The UCB was also a fantastic reminder that there are always people who have your back. Always.
Final thoughts: I give the book 4 stars. I really appreciate a story like this, and I enjoyed Cronn-Mills’ version. My A side was one of those fading hits that you get tired of quickly because it’s played too often and wasn’t well written in the first place. Books like Beautiful Music for Ugly Children help my confidence in playing more personal and overall better songs on my B side.