Beautiful Music for Ugly Children: a young adult novel

 photo BMUC_zps3b745aca.jpgKirstin Cronn-Mills recently won an American Library Association Stonewall Award "for a work of exceptional merit for children or teens relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience" for her young adult novel Beautiful Music for Ugly Children.

Published in October of 2012 the book was also a Top Ten pick for the 2013 Rainbow List, the Young Adult Library Services Association's 2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults, the silver medal winner in Foreword Review's Book of the Year Awards for Young Adult Fiction and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in the Children's/Young Adult category.

The book is for Grades 8 and up.

Gabe Williams is a guy with big summer plans. He’s got a job as a radio DJ, following in the footsteps of his mentor, and he wants to move far away after graduation. He’s also hoping his best friend Paige will fall in love with him—she’s smart, she’s hot, and she tolerates his music habit. He couldn’t ask for more. His only problem? The rest of the world has known him as Elizabeth for the last eighteen years.

--Kristin Cronn-Mills





Music geek Gabe has just come out to his family as transgender but is still known as Liz at school. He uses his late night community radio show to try on his male identity and encourage listeners to explore their own “b side.” Will the show’s growing popularity expose his secret?


Gabe has a job as a radio DJ and has plans to move up to Minneapolis after graduation. He also has a crush on his best friend, Paige, and hopes she will fall in love with him. While Gabe has high hopes for his future, he is learning to become a guy so he can leave the vestiges of Elizabeth behind. However, during his journey, he gets outed as transgender, threatened, and forced to protect himself against brutality. Chapters have fun titles, comparing big names to Elvis Presley (“Adam Lambert is the new Elvis but with eyeliner,” “Katy Perry is the new Elvis because she likes kissing girls, too”), which is an entertaining addition to the book. A definite must-read for trans and genderqueer folks, especially teens going through similar issues as Gabe.

--The Advocate

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.


Cronn-Mills teaches English and Humanities at South Central College in North Mankato, MN. The college shares the following as her biography:

Kirstin Cronn-Mills is a teacher and writer. She grew up in Nebraska and has lived in Minnesota for 20+ years. She teaches literature, critical thinking, and writing classes. Her books include the novels I (2009) and Beautiful Music for Ugly Children (2012), and the nonfiction book Transgender Lives: Complex Stories, Complex Voices (2014). She loves hanging out with her family, being outdoors, goofing around, and reading.

Cronn-Mills did not intentionally set out to write a book about a transgender boy.

I thought I'd write about a teenage guy who has a radio show. At the time, I was preparing for a diversity literature class and ran across Dean Kotula's book, The Phallus Palace. It covers experiences of female-to-male transsexuals, including 20 short autobiographical pieces from transmen. I was awed by their determination to be who they were. Their dedication to themselves inspired me. I thought it would be even more interesting to have a character behind the (radio) mic who happened to be a transperson.

--Kirstin Cronn-Mills

Not knowing much about transpeople, Cronn-Mills attended a Twin-Cities gender group.

I was lucky to find a Twin Cities gender exploration group. They allowed me to sit in and listen to people talk about gender variant as a teen. That helped me, and I am in debt to people who told me their stories. But the book took a long time to grow before the character of Gabe was ready.


Cronn-Mills wrote how understanding her own cis-privilege affected her writing BMUC.

Let’s be blunt: I have privilege, based on my skin color, my straightness, my education, and my income level. And I wrote a book, Beautiful Music for Ugly Children (out October 8 from Flux), and spoke in the voice of an 18-year-old trans guy named Gabe Williams. Trans individuals are marginalized like crazy in this world. I am not. Hmm, you say. Why would she do that? And is she allowed to do that? Here are my answers to both questions.

--Kirstin Cronn-Mills at Malinda Lo

I wrote BMUC because I loved writing it. I love underdog stories, I love coming of age stories, and I love the idea that music can save us. But I also wrote it because I believe this statement is true: if one of us is oppressed, all of us are oppressed. If I can make a teeny tiny crack in oppression, I’m all for it. Human rights are not open for conversation. And trans individuals (LGBT individuals in general) have their rights kicked around like soccer balls — and they’re never the winning team. Those are my first two “whys.”

The inspiration for Cronn's first book, The Sky Always Hears Me and the Hills Don't Mind, came from a phone call the author received from a high school classmate who she hadn't heard from in over ten years.

This woman told me she was mean to me in high school because she had a crush on me. I thought that explained a lot and it would make a great story. So my first fiction was written in Morgan's voice. I wrote that book to say that if my classmate had told me about the crush in high school, it would have been OK.




Other works include the illustrated young adult novel, Original Fake, illustrated by Erik T. Johnson.

Tourist Trap is under submission.

The non-fiction work The Trans Experience Transgender Lives: Complex Stories, Complex Voices is due out August 1 September 1 of this year.

It's easy for our culture to wrap our minds around same-sex marriage, but gender is the third rail in terms of that political statement. People don't understand those who identify with various gender identities.

--Kristin Cronn-Mills