Saturday, October 27, 2012

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

I don't understand people who hate others because they are different. Looking back to when I was young, I realize now that I was bullied. For a long time I thought of it as teasing or even a right of passage for boys, but it was torment that made me afraid and uncomfortable. It never went beyond the verbal and was not everyday, but it was enough that I remember several times fearing the school day. I tell this because I know there are many young people who are constantly bullied and the face much bigger issues than I ever faced. And that leads us to this book...

Gabe started out life as Elizabeth. He has known for a long time that he was not comfortable being a girl. Although he dresses as masculine as possible in school, he is still Elizabeth to everyone else. Now that he is a few weeks away from graduation, he is hopeful that he can get away from his small town and just be Gabe all the time. He dreams of going to the Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul) to be a radio DJ.

Gabe's one escape has always been music - an interest that has grown to near obsession thanks to his neighbor John (the first person to ever to play Elvis on the radio back in the 1950s). John gets Gabe a late night slot on a small local radio station where he can play pretty much whatever he wants. Borrowing heavily from John's personal music collection and vast knowledge of popular music of the past 60 years, Gabe creates themed programs each week that to his surprise attract a small, loyal following. Gabe also attracts a few female admirers who do not know his big secret.

It's a small town and secrets cannot remain secrets forever. When the truth is revealed, a few violent thugs threaten Gabe in person and online. Gabe is attacked for doing nothing but trying to be himself. It is a truth of life that still confounds me. 

Fortunately, Gabe is not alone. In addition to John and his radio listeners, Gabe also has his best friend (and the first person he ever told) Paige. She has always been there for him. His feelings for her are complicated, though. Is it possible they could ever be more than just friends? 

His family situation is more delicate. His parents are not adjusting so easily to the transition. They continue to call him Elizabeth and often refuse to even look at him. Will they ever come around to accept that their little girl has always been a boy on the inside and now wants his outside to match?

Of course, I love the music elements of this story. There are so many references to artists and songs that I like (every chapter title has Elvis in it!). Even though the music is cool, the messages and the characters are the real reason to read this. It is full of hope and strength for anyone who has ever been bullied. Gabe never gives up. He is always looking forward.

For more info about this book, check out the Evergreen library catalog and the author's site.