I absolutely adore reading - my love for books has had a huge impact on my life! I'm going to grad school to be a children's/YA librarian.
I never, ever expected to like this book as much as I did. This is only the third book that I've read that I'd qualify as GBLT literature (the other two being Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and Invisible Monsters Remix), and it was the first that seriously took on the issue of transgenders (I don't count IMR because Brandy Alexander isn't exactly your average trans person). I didn't know what to expect, especially because the first time I read this book, it was like a week after I'd finished IMR, and while IMR is a really great book, it's also super disturbing. So going into reading this book, I was kind of expecting it to be like IMR-Jr, which I don't think would have worked out so well, since IMR is EXTREMELY inappropriate (but also very good - go read it!). Also, I personally have had absolutely no interactions with any transgender people (as far as I know), so this was new territory for me - and to be honest, the only reason I picked up this book was because it was an assignment for my YA lit class. And while it may seem silly, I was nervous - I think it's true that we fear what we don't understand and, prior to reading this book, I had zero understanding of what being transgender really meant, or what transgender people are like.
This book tells the story of Gabe Williams, an eighteen year old who's in the process of transitioning from Liz Williams. At the beginning of the story, the only people who know that that Liz wants to be known as Gabe from now on are his parents, brother, and best friend, Paige. Gabe's super nervous about people finding out about his true identity, because he comes from a small town in Minnesota where people aren't very open-minded. He's also incredibly passionate about music and has his own radio show called Beautiful Music for Ugly Children. The story basically follows Gabe's coming out to the rest of his town, and it's also about his transition as he figures out what to do with his life after graduation from high school.
I think it's safe to say that the main goal of this book is to inform people about the transgender community and to make people more open-minded about people who are born in the wrong body. In my case, I would definitely say it was successful. While I would never, ever intentionally hurt or be rude to a person because of their sexual or gender orientation, prior to reading this book, I was never able to wrap my mind around the concept of being transgender. It just didn't make sense to me - how could a boy actually identify as a girl, or vice versa? After reading this book, I must admit, I still don't get it. But I also know that as confusing as the concept is for me, it must be million times more confusing for people who are actually experiencing it. It's not a ploy for attention or an attempt to be different - these people are simply born into the wrong bodies and are trying to make sense of their lives.
To me, the most interesting aspect of the book was Gabe's family. At the beginning of the story, his parents are still adjusting to the whole "my daughter's a dude" thing. Because of that, they can't even look at Gabe, and they insist on still calling him Liz - basically, they're in denial. But as the book goes on, they actually make an effort to talk to Gabe about what he's going through and to try to understand it. I think that for parents, this must be especially challenging. If you think about it, one of the first things that you learn about your baby before they're born is if they're a boy or a girl. There are lots of things about any kid that will surprise any parent - will they like sports? will they read? will they like boys or girls? will they party? will they do drugs one day? will they go to jail?... the list goes on. There are so many things that parents try to prepare themselves for, but one thing that I think parents expect to stay constant is that if you have a boy, he'll be a boy forever, or if you have a girl, she'll be a girl forever. I don't think that most parents expect something like that to change. But after reading this book, I think that maybe it would be a good thing for parents to start preparing themselves for something like this, so that if their children come home one day and say that they identify as the opposite sex, parents can be more accepting and loving in their response - it would be better for everybody. I think that Kirstin Cronn-Mills portrayed Gabe's parents in a way that's both realistic and optimistic - realistic because Gabe's announcement would probably shock most parents and optimistic because hopefully, parents in this situation would eventually realize that changing gender does not change the person who their child is.
Being transgender, in my opinion, is not wrong or bad or tragic - it's just part of who some people are. But it can come as a surprise, and it's often a surprise that people don't understand. I think that it's time that people begin to try to understand, and above all, I think that it's crucial that we as a society begin to accept that people aren't just male or female - they're people. Does it really matter what gender they identify with? After reading this book, I don't think so, and it's for that reason that I gave this book such a high rating: it made me more informed about a topic that I had previously known nothing about, and it made me so much more open-minded toward that topic. On top of that, the story was funny and Gabe was totally relatable - he's trying to find himself, and I think that's something that we ALL can relate to, transgender or not.
I do have a disclaimer to go with this book, however: there is a TON of vulgar language. Personally, I wasn't too offended by it, because, at least in my experience, Gabe talks like high school age guys talk. But honestly, the language is terrible. For that reason, I would not advise recommending it to anyone under the age of sixteen. If teens under the age of sixteen were interested in reading it, I wouldn't discourage them from reading it because I do think that this is a great book that touches on a very important topic, but again, I would recommend caution in encouraging younger teens to read this book. It's one that I definitely think teachers and librarians should read first, before handing it to students. But again, great book, and one that I definitely recommend to older high school students and adults!
For my class that assigned this book, I was asked to compile my own list of "Beautiful Music for Ugly Children." Apparently, we were supposed to have theme for it but I interpreted as just my favorite songs. So, here is the Incomplete List of Kara's Favorite Songs in No Particular Order:
1) "Come Together" - The Beatles
2) "Demons" - Kingsfoil
3) "Something Like Olivia" - John Mayer
4) "Where You Lead" - Carole King
5) "You're So Vain" - Carly Simon
6) "Royals" - Lorde
7) "Like We Did (Windows Down)" - The Maine
8) "Off to the Races" - Lana Del Rey
9) "Slide" - Goo Goo Dolls
10) "So Good" - B.o.B.
11) "Perfect for Me" - Shwayze
12) "Dark Blue" - Jack's Mannequin
13) "Live a Little" - Gym Class Heroes
14) "Anything but Mine" - Kenny Chesney
15) "For the First Time" - the Script
16) "The Chain" - Fleetwood Mac
17) "Only the Good Die Young" - Billy Joel
18) "Wannabe" - the Spice Girls
19) "Never Let Me Go" - Florence and the Machine
20) "You Make My Dreams" - Hall and Oates
What's your "Beautiful Music for Ugly Children" playlist?