“Jordan Sun is embarking on her junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts, hopeful that this will be her time: the year she finally gets cast in the school musical. But when her low Alto 2 voice gets her shut out for the third straight year—threatening her future at Kensington-Blaine and jeopardizing her college applications—she’s forced to consider nontraditional options.
Jordan finds herself enmeshed in a precarious juggling act: making friends, alienating friends, crushing on a guy, crushing on a girl, and navigating decades-old rivalries. With her secret growing heavier every day, Jordan pushes beyond gender norms to confront what it means to be a girl (and a guy) in a male-dominated society, and—most importantly—what it means to be herself.”
This book took me by surprise. I had been hearing amazing things about it everywhere, so I decided to ask for a copy of this on NetGalley. While I enjoyed the story, especially for certain issues that were developed in the storyline which I had never seen talked about or even mentioned in any contemporary book before, I was expecting a little bit more of this.
Noteworthy follows the story of Jordan Sun navigating the obstacles and difficulties of Kensington, a boarding school for the Performing Arts. Riley Redgate does an amazing job at creating Jordan’s voice, and making her character feel close to home to, let’s be real, anyone who has had to go through the nightmare that high school can be. And I think this was one of the main reasons the book kept grabbing my attention, even though I was not interested that much in the musical plotline, since I know nothing about musical technicalities, and I found myself skimming certain passages where things about notes and such were being explained. But let’s go back to Jordan’s storyline. Her struggles to find a main role in the theatre plays of her school due to the fact that her voice “is a little bit deeper than the ones needed for female main protagonists in plays” lead her to make the drastic decision to apply for auditions of an a cappella male group, as a boy. Now, while I was hesitant going into this book knowing that she would spend, probably the majority of the book cross-dressing as a boy, and thinking that maybe it was going to come off as disrespectful towards the trans community, I do think that Redgate managed the whole concept wonderfully and respectfully. However, not being a transgender myself, this is merely my appreciation of the book, and I know I am in no way entitled to affirming whether the introduction of cross-dressing here is respectful or not. But what I can say, is that there are plenty of instances of discourse where the main character has a monologue where she thinks about how she might be appropriating a part of a community that she does not identify herself with, and because of that, being disrespectful to said community. She questions whether what she is doing is wrong when there are so many people out there in the world who ARE trans having to suffer the prejudice and rejection of society, while she does it not because she is transgender, but for the sake of keeping up appearances with the Sharps, the a cappella group.
Besides that, there are plenty of different examples of conversations about important social issues that, like I’ve said, I had never read about in any other YA contemporary book. And I think that is one of the reasons why this book comes like a breath of fresh air to the genre that has been lately lacking so much originality when it comes to plots and tropes. Besides the diversity we find in the Sharps members, in Noteworthy, social issues like sexuality, gender identity and privilege are discussed thoroughly. We are told that Jordan comes from a poor family, with her father being disabled and having to spend most of the money her family has on medical and hospital bills, and here is where Redgate does not shy away from criticizing the health insurance system that the US has, as well as its flaws and its deficiencies.
It can be said that this book has its similarities to the movie “She’s the Man”, because both discuss in different ways the implications of what being a man and what masculinity mean. And this plays a major role in Jordan’s character progression. While at the beginning the struggles she has with cross-dressing are merely superficial like her posture, or how to walk or talk, as the book progresses, she begins to see that boys are also under the societal pressure of what it means to be a man in this day and age. We get to see guys struggling with their sexuality because of this pressure, we get to see characters being cruel and disrespectful to other characters because of the expectations set upon them, and Jordan gets caught in the middle of it.
While these issues played a major role in me liking this book, it was definitely the characters’ dynamic that did it for me. Each one of the members of the a cappella group were well-developed and important to the plotline, even though certain characters were given more importance than others, Jordan’s interactions as Julian with all of them were the highlight of the story.
Despite all of these positive aspects of Noteworthy, I think the author could have done more in relation to the plotline. There wasn’t much going on besides Jordan having her rehearsals with the Sharps, and the Sharps being involved in a constant hazing battle with their rival a cappella group, the Minuets. I think Redgate could have incorporated a bit more of a shocking twist into her story other than the expected climax -when were people going to find out that Jordan was actually a girl, and not a boy.
All in all, Noteworthy ended up being a funny and light-hearted story that incorporates important conversations of social issues that, in my opinion, need to be developed more within the Young Adult genre. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a diverse YA book with an original plotline, especially if music or a cappella is one of your interests.
* I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.