Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Review: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

I was excited to read this book from the moment I read the description - it's not every day you come across a YA novel with a trans* protagonist. Gabe has always identified as a boy, but grew up as "Elizabeth". He's only recently come out to his family and closest friend, and while the latter is very open and understanding, the former are struggling to come to terms with the situation. Isolated at home and bullied at school, Gabe finds solace in music, particularly in the new radio show he hosts on community radio and his friendship with a former big-time DJ who just happens to be his neighbour.

This book was definitely unique, but it felt a little flat to me and I just couldn't connect with the story or characters. Catie from The Readventurer mentioned in her review that Beautiful Music for Ugly Children never really transcends being an "issue" book, and the characters don't feel real. I have to say I agree with her completely. The characters did not feel nuanced and the tensions which you'd expect in a story like this felt very superficial. There was no in-depth exploration of Gabe's feelings and emotions or the changing nature of his relationships with those around him. The bullies themselves are completely two-dimensional, and while their actions are horrific, there was no depth in the storytelling to make them really have an impact.

I sympathised with Gabe but I didn't particularly like him. I cringed at the radio show segments - they came off really goofy to me, and having done a year-long stint in community radio myself, I didn't particularly buy the immediate popularity of his show. Sure, the whole "Ugly Children Brigade" was a nice idea, but it was literally too good to be true. I also found his attitude to girls really off-putting. I get it, teens are horny, but I swear every time he interacted with a girl it was all about how she looked and how she affected him. This included his best friend, Paige, who was really understanding and supportive of Gabe's transition, but all he seems to think about is how much she turns him on. I don't know if the hyper-sexuality was Cronn-Mills' interpretation of the way a teen boy - or a trans* teen - thinks, but it just made me feel uncomfortable, and I'm no prude. Gabe just seemed to objectify all the girls in his life and it wasn't fun to read. It did make me think - is this how guys feel when reading the likes of Twilight, where everything is about the guys' abs and god-like profiles and how much Bella just wants to have the sex?

Anyway, as you can see, I had a lot of problems with Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, but I'm glad it's out there and I'm glad I read it. While, as Catie suggested, it never becomes more than an "issue" book, it is an issue that needs to be thought about and talked about. Unfortunately it lacks the heart to make you really connect with the characters and the story, so for me it just didn't live up to its potential.

Rating: 3/5

Fine Print
Genre: Young Adult
Published: October 2012, Flux
Get It: Book Depository
Source: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley

Obviously, this book mentions a lot of music! Check out the playlist here.


  1. Oh man, it sounds like this one really missed the mark, Belle. When you're dealing with sensitive issues like bullying and have a unique character profile, you really need to feel for the main character. There has to be some sort of depth to make the connection between the horrible actions and the reader's sensitivities. Another book with remarkable potential that's gone to waste. Sorry it didn't turn out like you hoped!

    1. Exactly. With stories like this, they need to be character-driven rather than plot-driven, I believe.

  2. Aww, its a shame that this story didn't deliver. The premise sounds so good!