Monday, August 25, 2014

YA Review: Beautiful Music For Ugly Children by Kirsten Cronn-Mills

 When you think about it, I'm like a 45.  Liz is my A side, the song everybody knows, and Gabe is my B side - not played as often but just as good.

There really was beautiful music here. 
Gabriel Joseph Williams struggles with talking to people.  Every conversation and interaction brings about anxiety and frustration, and most at school know him to be quiet and reserved.  Very unlike his best friend since kindergarten, the very popular Paige.  But after hiding all day at school, he comes alive at night on his new radio show "Beautiful Music for Ugly Children", on the town's low-budget radio station.  With a catalog and musical knowledge of everything and everyone from Flo-Rida and Jay-Z to The Rolling Stones and The Sex Pistols, the show is an instant hit and there's seemingly nothing standing between Gabe letting his personal coolness out in his everyday life. 
Except for the fact that most of the world knows him as Elizabeth Mary Williams.  And he is slowly but surely falling in love with his best friend.  And his parents won't make eye contact with him anymore. And his little brother thinks he's a freak.  And his only other best friend in the world is a 68 year old man who just may have one day been the most important DJ in America.   
Kirstin Cronn-Mills handled the very serious moment of a young transgendered man growing into himself with so much grace and honesty in this book.  I felt so much for Gabe.  It's has been a long time since I've read a main character who I didn't want to smack.  Gabe was not a selfish or pushy person, but he was determined and steady and actually very patient in willing those closest to him into respecting him AS a person.  Gentle reminders to his parents when they'd purposefully call him "Liz", or refer to he and Paige as "The Girls". 
My dad glances up. "How are you today...Elizabeth?" 
              "I'm Gabe. How are you?"  
Moments where he's honest about what the cost of him being himself has brought onto his family, 
 Instead of storming out, which is my first impulse, I close my eyes and breathe because he's right; this is hard on them.  I may be young and stupid, like he said, but they're confused and hurt.  Because of me.

And also sad and lonely moments where the vulnerability of knowing that perhaps nowhere is safe, 

 She'll tell me to go to the police, because she believes in law and order.  I, on the other hand, believe the police won't care about someone like me.
The friendship between Gabe and John, his beloved mentor and next door neighbor had that Doc Brown and Marty McFly-ness that was familiar and instantly loveable.  Their mutual love and respect for the safety and passion that they both found in music was absolutely palpable.  And on the subject of music, while this book did remind me of quite a few others, "This Song Will Save Your Life" for example, it was really awesome to see multiple genres overlapped without some jarring explanation, as many books seem to do. For playlists that spanned from Prince to Souljah Boy and back to Elvis, it never felt weird or contrived. 
The subject of Gabe's "guyness" was also handled very honestly, even allowing itself to have the humor that sexuality just naturally has sometimes, to trickle in.  Searching for ways to use a urinal.  Choosing a loose enough shirt that doesn't show the chest binder underneath.  It was a very vivid but not heavy-handed look at the worries and cares that Gabe has to live with every single day just to be, and how much those who don't have to live in bodies that don't agree with our minds, take for granted.  There was much to be found here about identity's and people not always being who we expect them to be.  
Both also very integral parts of the story were the Ugly Children's Brigade - a group of Gabe's radio fans who listen every night and act out the positive affirmation actions he proposes, and the Twin Cities Vibe Radio Contest - which could be the key to a life outside of this town, and a job. While both of these had some fantastical and YA cliche'd elements to them, neither were very "Fairytale" in execution, and readers of the "New Adult" genre will appreciate the author's aversion to wrapping either of them up with a neat bow.   
The afterword also includes a pretty interesting note on sexuality and gender, as well as some information on where to go for support and information. 
This book made me happy, and sad, and most importantly, aware.   
I loved it. 


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Pieces of Programming: Otaku Training Day

Teens are interesting creatures.  They have absolutely no interest in you until you're not paying them any attention.   
I've learned to use this to my advantage. 

If I visit the teen room and just start doing something, that's the easiest way to get them to wander over and investigate.  I try to remain as aloof as possible, or at least appear as though what I'm working on is truly no big deal and right when they start asking questions, BAM!, I've got them. 

Occasionally, they get me too. 

I am not an Anime or Manga enthusiast.   
By any means. 
In fact, whenever I see it plastered into teen services guides, I usually flip right past it. My teens here are very big on Anime and Manga, but our relationship has pretty much been that I won't bother them about it, if they don't bother me about it.  We live and let live in that way. LOL 
However, my teens don't care that I don't like anime.   
What they saw in my indifference, I've found, was an opportunity to teach.   
So I decided to exploit it.  

On a random day of being lovingly bugged about watching or reading an episode of whatever their latest fandom is, I finally offer them an olive branch; 
"What if I give you all a whole day to just completely engross me in all things Anime/Manga?"   
Eyes got wide.  Activity began to buzz.  There were monsters being created. 

As the weeks rolled on, I began to gently drop little pieces of responsibility on them: 
"You need to come up with a schedule, you know."  I'd say. 

As they began to see how serious I was about it, they would also have tasks for me: 
"We would like a projector and a laptop for the day." They would tell me.  They'd bring me choices to circle, so that they could meet together and decide on their plan. 

These little repartee's continued, and I have to say that their excitement did two things for me: 
  1. It made ME a little excited about it also. 
  2. It reminded me that it really didn't matter what the program was going to be about.  The most important thing was that these teens had an adult willing to sit and listen to them about something that was important and valuable to them, for an extended time period.  It was the driving force behind most of their excitement, and the ownership of it, made them not want to take it for granted.    
On the day of training.  I made sure that all of my work was out of the way.  The teens were in charge of schedule, setup, and even snacks.  At exactly 1:30pm, they were standing in my office giving me the "It's time", face. 

They served popcorn, arranged seating in our activity room to accommodate everyone, and setup the projector and laptop.  A couple of them greeted me by calling me an "Otaku Cadet".  By the time I came into the room, they had tabs open for each anime title they wanted me to view.   

Here's what they shared with me: 
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood  Fairy Tail Reborn Akame Ga Kiru Squid Girl  Medaka Box and Sword Art Online  
Some I liked: FullmetalAkame Ga Kiru 
Some I was kind of put-off by: Squid Girl, Medaka Box 

Three anime titles in, I asked, "I thought you all were going to show me Attack On Titan"?" A room of disgusted faces turned it me and said: "Nooooooooo, Miss Regina. Too mainstream." Then one put a hand on my shoulder and whispered, "Too mainstream..." 

So how did it go? 
I think it went exceptionally well.  There were over 16 participants(with males and females!), including two off-duty staff members who stopped in.  I was so proud of how they handled this event and a couple of hours in, I even ordered a couple of pizzas and sodas as a thank-you.  Throughout the day, they repeatedly asked me my thoughts on what they were exposing me too.  I tried to be honest, but was also careful to be mindful of their feelings, and particular shows they felt strongly about. 

At the close of the event, to show that I was fully respectful of the time they'd taken, I also took a moment to put in orders for any titles they'd shown me, that we didn't have full seasons of in the library.  I also offered them the opportunity to reinstate the long dormant Anime club.  They are going to get back to me about that. 

A full program executed by teens, reverse teen-advisory, and a crash course in Japanese.  Time well spent, I'd say.