What: Noteworthy by Riley Redgate
Who: Amulet Books
When: May 2nd 2017
How: A copy of this novel was provided by ABRAMS Kids for review via Net Galley.
It’s the start of Jordan Sun’s junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts. Unfortunately, she’s an Alto 2, which—in the musical theatre world—is sort of like being a vulture in the wild: She has a spot in the ecosystem, but nobody’s falling over themselves to express their appreciation. So it’s no surprise when she gets shut out of the fall musical for the third year straight.
Then the school gets a mass email: A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshiped … revered … all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.
First things first: I loved Noteworthy. It wasn’t even on my TBR until someone told me that it features a POC bisexual protagonist. And then I was SOLD.
I honestly loved Noteworthy from the moment I started it. Jordan’s voice is super engaging, and realistic, and sarcastic. I felt like she was such a real character, and she really set the tone for her story, as well. I loved her voice A LOT, and it’s actually quite rare for me to fall in love with a voice so much but here I am. If authentic voice is something that you love then Noteworthy fits the bill perfectly, I promise.
I was kind of worried about the music elements of this book because I have ZERO music knowledge whatsoever, and I always kind of hate it when a book assumes that a reader will have knowledge on something. Noteworthy did not fall into this trap. Sure, I wasn’t like OMG I LOVE THESE MUSIC BITS HURRAH. But I also wasn’t like omg wtf is going on here, either. So it was a nice balance. I imagine people who do have music knowledge would like the music bits more than I did.
Now, the bits I loved best about Noteworthy were the bits about the characters and their relationships. I adored seeing Jordan interact with people because she’s awkward and super self aware (oh, hi, me). But it was also great seeing her begin to relax around people as she became more sure of herself and who she wanted to be. Her character growth throughout the book was actually pretty great, really. She started off as someone who was still reeling from a break-up, not talking to anyone, and generally feeling pretty miserable. And by the end she had friends and a boyfriend, and was just happy. I loved this.
Okay, I’m going to take some time to talk about two things that were… not necessarily wrong, but not necessarily great, either.
The first thing concerns Jordan’s bisexuality, in a way. YAY for on page bisexual labelling. That is VERY important, and in no way is my subsequent discussion taking away from this at all. However. In Noteworthy, Jordan cross-dresses as a boy to get into a prestigious a cappella group because she’s tired of not getting roles in the school musicals and also just ‘because’. One night at a school dance a girl kisses Jordan and then Jordan has this whole head canon about how adorable they would be together. Once the girl finds out that Jordan is actually a girl, too, then all interest flings itself out of existence. Hmm, okay. You are attracted to this person and you like this person but once you find out they identify differently than you thought they’re immediately friend zoned because there’s no way you could be anything but straight.
Jordan, on the same night, makes a declaration to Isaac about how nice he smells. Cue a case of ‘gay panic’ because Isaac retreats from his friendship with Jordan, and also tells everyone in the a cappella group that Jordan is gay (which is 100% not okay. Jordan never said she was gay, and don’t. out. people. FFS.). Cue instant “no homo” from Isaac. BUT THEN. Isaac finds out that Jordan has been cross-dressing the whole time and then Isaac suddenly has feelings for her. Once you find out that someone confirms your hetero identity then it’s okay to like them, even though you panicked at the thought of them liking you when you thought they were a guy.
Both of these things are just so heteronormative. I know that neither of them take away from Jordan’s bisexual identity, and I’m not saying that. But it was still really disappointing that both of Jordan’s romantic encounters were with people who were so staunch in their heterosexuality that they either dismissed attraction or suddenly gained attraction based on whether or not they were affirmed of that heterosexuality.
The second thing that was really missing, and which was detrimental to my enjoyment of the book was the discourse regarding gender. Now, there was a scene where Jordan thought about how what she was doing was kind of shitty because trans people have to actually go stealth in school and in public, and being outed would be a lot worse for them than for Jordan who could laugh it off and say she was cross-dressing as an experiment (side eye).
BUT. The whole time I read this book it just felt… off. It felt off reading about the struggles of a cis girl pretending to be a guy. It felt off that there were no trans characters in this book at all. It felt off that Jordan 100% identifies as a girl and yet that’s the POV we’re seeing in this story. There was no discourse regarding gender identity, and it almost felt like Jordan and her experiences were making light of the shit that trans kids have to go through. I know that not everyone might feel that way but no one can deny that she was doing this just because she wanted to see if she could. Not because it’s the way she wants to live, because it’s the way she identifies, because it’s who she is.
This complete lack of trans rep and gender discussion really hampered by enjoyment of a book that I otherwise loved a lot. Having a cis girl being the only character who thought about gender identity was very lacking. There should have been trans characters, especially a trans boy, who could have called Jordan out, and gotten into why what she did was problematic and hurtful, and talk about what it’s like to experience some of the things that Jordan did because it’s who you are not because you didn’t get a role in the musical.
To be honest, I would still recommend Noteworthy because I did really love it. But the heteronormativity and lack of inclusive gender discussion were two big downfalls of this book.
© 2017, Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity. All rights reserved.
trigger warning: reference to animal cruelty, bullying, poverty, reference to operation difficulties (father’s leg, injured in car crash), reference to parent’s hospitalisation (chest infection and car crash injuries), use of ableist language, and physical assault in this novel