Noteworthy by Riley Redgate
Published by: Amulet Books
Released: 2 May 2017
Read: 28 April 2017
Noteworthy is a really good story with lots of challenging ideas. While the plot is straight forward—girl poses as a boy to successfully audition for an all-boys A Capella group—the issues around this pretense make it complex and smart. It doesn’t hurt that Redgate populates her book with an eclectic group of secondary characters, and describes Jordan’s surroundings in exquisite detail. With all the attention to the buildings of this posh elite school for the Arts, and the weather of the passing seasons, the story is slow paced. But it’s all the better, as readers not only ponder Jordan’s decisions and subsequent consequences (both good and bad), but also appreciate her reasons for doing them as more is revealed about her history, her dreams, and her reality.
Jordan Sun becomes Julian Zhang (her real-life cousin) because her singing voice is difficult to categorise. It’s often (read always) not suitable for the parts being offered the females in the theatre faculty, where Jordan has secured a scholarship. She works so hard to fulfill her academic requirements, but her parents, financially strapped and burdened by medical debts, only see that she doesn’t appear in any of the school performances. Frustrated by this failure, she auditions for the Sharpshooters, truly believing she’ll be able to sing with them, helping them to win an exciting competition (for the opportunity to be backup group on a European tour), and not get involved with the other members at all.
If we’ve learnt anything from Glee, [insert country of choice] Idol, or School of Rock even (ha! Love that film), it’s that a group of singers-slash-musicians will always bond, will always become close, (and then get jealous, start fights, break up, get back together for the music, make money, then – but never mind all that), and as she gets to know the other boys, we see her, for the first time, really think through the implications of this charade. It’s serious, and begins to impact on other aspects of her life, but we completely understand why she persists. She now belongs. She feels part of something, and suddenly she’s more confident, standing up tall, and owning her talent. There is a physical change, as well as a positive shift in her mental attitude.
The other Sharps are multi-dimensional, even if we don’t learn as much as some as I would like (Trav, what’s your story, big guy?) We come to know earnest Eric, politically astute Marcus, sensitive, generous Nihal, and best buddies Jon Cox and Mama, and with Jordan, fall a little bit in love with the enigmatic Isaac Nakahara, and slowly, the book morphs into something more than just Jordan’s story. These boys have a lot to share, and it makes perfect sense because they become significant in Jordan’s life. It is increasingly impossible to keep her secret. She doesn’t want to lie to them. Her strong moral code fights with her need to achieve what is now not an impossible dream. It’s delicious drama.
Jordan’s commitment to the part of Julian is evident when she cuts off her long hair, hides away even more from her classmates, and blends in with the other Sharps. It’s a realistic integration, and when one of the other groups, the Minuets, start a pranking war, Jordan is all in. There’s a nice bit of tension here, with serious Trav ordering the boys to not engage, and Isaac, bold and righteous, refusing to bend. I found some of the actions really questionable, and I wanted justice for the Sharps–why not go to their faculty sponsor? Some other adult? But of course, as in these matters, it’s up to the teens to sort out the mess. But it does get very messy by the end. Very.
The issues that plague Jordan include obvious ones, such as betraying the Sharps—will they forgive her? And the school’s reaction—will they expel her? Through to more complicated—by dressing as a boy, is she dishonouring genuine trans kids, who experience discrimination just trying to be their true selves? This interior dilemma is articulated well, and although it doesn’t dissuade Jordan from continuing, it weighs heavily on her mind. When there’s some flirting and kissing with both a boy and a girl Jordan finds herself wondering, could she be bi-sexual? It’s so confusing and complicated, but Redgate keeps us following along. We are never confused or put off by events or actions, because we believe Jordan’s frustration, and we accept her self-questioning, and actually, we applaud her for it, and believe she will find answers (they take a long time to come).
By the last section (all beautifully named by musical tempos), I was delirious with worry about Jordan’s discovery. I couldn’t see how Redgate could pull it all together, but of course she does. The resolution is even better than I imagined, and I believed every minute of it. I haven’t spent any time talking about Jordan’s Asian ethnicity (#ownvoice), or her family’s real struggle with poverty. Set against a background of white privilege and wealth, Jordan’s awareness of social strata is another welcoming consideration. It’s excellent to see a different sort of kid being portrayed—one with artistic ideals and talents, and who fights tooth and nail, despite overwhelming odds. I also didn’t go into detail about the flashbacks to Jordan’s life before, with a boyfriend, who on leaving school dumped her unceremoniously. Michael was someone who she gave herself over to completely, and is now left solitary. It’s part of the reason the deception works, which is a poignant thread running through the novel.
Look, I loved this book a lot. I hope it reaches many hands. And I will keep an eye out for more books by Riley Redgate. Highly recommended for readers who love their main characters intelligent and stubborn, who like their romance on the back burner, and their friendships at the forefront. It’s basically a school story, but one that will have readers running off to YouTube to watch back-to-back A Capella performances by groups with terrifically punned names. It’s also an ensemble piece, much like the Sharpshooters themselves—a perfect blend of voices, coiling around each other lifting, rejoicing, and complementing so that all the elements of story—voice, setting, plot and emotion—work in harmony (too much here? Probably).
Copy provided by publisher via Netgalley and read with glee (squee). Released on 2nd May.