Cronn-Mills, Kirstin. (2012). Beautiful Music for Ugly Children. Woodbury, MN: Flux.
Beautiful Music for Ugly Children is one of the most approachable trans narratives I’ve come across. The writing is stellar and the story is very relatable, with some really fascinating music connections. I love the metaphor of the authentic vulnerable self being the cooler B-Side on an album.
In many ways, the story arc is predictable—Gabe encounters resistance from his family and bullying at school when he comes out as transgender. But it’s predictable because this is what actually happens. Stories like this are important so that cisgender people can gain understanding, grow empathy, and become allies.
What’s unpredictable and neat about this story is the intergenerational friendship and focus on music, Elvis in particular. I really enjoyed Gabe’s mentorship/friendship with an older radio DJ who shows him the ropes and offers him true acceptance and love. There’s a lot of fun banter about music history, fitting in, radio production, and queers throughout music history.
Although this is a YA book, I think that a broad range of people could appreciate it, from more mature middle schoolers to older adults. Characters are realistic and interesting, the story is engaging, and there are a lot of fun tidbits about classic radio. This is a trans story, but it’s not just a trans story.
I also want to mention the excellent author note at the end of the book. Cronn-Mills offers a very good discussion of sex, gender, sexual orientation, and the transgender umbrella. She is honest about her own gender (cisgender female) and acknowledges all the trans folks who helped her in her research for the book. In addition, she lists several Internet resources for LGBTQ youth and parents and teachers who support them.
Beautiful Music for Ugly Children won the 2014 Stonewall Award, was a Top 10 pick for the 2013 Rainbow List, and was a Lambda Literary Award finalist in 2013.
Content note: There are a few scenes of physical and sexualized violence that may be difficult for some folks, but it’s important to the story and not gratuitous, and the resolution is very good.