Then the school gets a mass email: A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshipped ... 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. From Goodreads.
Having loved Riley Redgate's incredible debut, Seven Ways We Lie, last year, I was so eager to read her second novel, Noteworthy. And it was so good!
The story revolves around the a cappella octet, the Sharpshooters, but this story is less about music and more about friendship and identity. For the past two years of school at Kensington-Blaine, Jordan has been wrapped up in her boyfriend, made him her whole world, and so now they've split up, she realises she doesn't actually have any friends at school. She feels like she's not good enough, musically, because she has never made it into the school musical because her voice, for a girl, is too deep. Desperate to do something, to prove to herself, the school, her parents - who don't really want her there, and what's the point of staying if the school never allows her into anything? - that she is worthy, she disguises herself as a boy, names herself Julian Wang, and auditions for the Sharpshooters. Once she gets in, she's able to show she does have talent, that she does have what it takes. But more than that, she finally feels like she fits somewhere. These boys that she thought of as arrogant and up themselves are actually pretty cool, and they become friends, and she suddenly starts to feel like she belongs.
It's the relationships she builds with the guys in Sharpshooters that are one of the main focuses of the story. Laid back and cool Isaac, president of the a cappella group and class clown. Sensible, intense, focused Trav, the musical director. Excitable and awkward Marcus. Erik, who thinks he's cool. Good looking, rich-kid Jon Cox and warm but teasing Mama, best friends, but chalk and cheese, who's playful musical arguments provide some of the humour. And quiet, calm, steady Nihal. Jordan tries hard to keep her distance, make it just about the music, about aiming for winning the a cappella competition, which will mean going on tour with superstar a cappella group Aural Fixation, but the guys draw her in. She thought these guys thought they were above everyone else, but they don't. They're just normal guys, with their own stories and their own problems, and as she gets to know them, Jordan can't help but warm to them all, to care. It makes lying about who she is really difficult.
Which brings us to the second focus of the story; identity. Noteworthy really looks at gender roles and norms. Jordan isn't trans, but as Julian, she's discovering ways of being that felt closed off to her as Jordan; a confidence and self-assured-ness that isn't quite within reach as Jordan, the right to take up space ad not try and make herself smaller, both literally and personally. As Julian, she feels more like her true self than who she is when she's Jordan, like she's been putting on an act her whole life, but as Julian she finally gets to just be. But she also discovers the limits that masculinity puts on guys; how they're supposed to just take things and "man up", an almost aggressive drive that some feel they should have, to do absolutely everything - anything - to make it. Because how are they men if they don't? It's so interesting!
What I also loved about this book is how aware Jordan is of claiming space that isn't hers, using something to her advantage, when for others, this is their every day lives. There's a moment when Jordan is looking up online how to better hide her small bust, and comes across a website with tips and advice for trans men, and she's filled with guilt. She's not trans, she's cross-dressing, she's acting (almost, considering she feels like like herself as Julian), and there's a part of her that feels that what she is doing is wrong, in regards to trans people and what their everyday life. There's another moment where the group thinks she - Julian - is gay, because of something she says when drunk. And she allows them to think so, as it helps with her disguise, and it's easier than explaining, but again, she knows she's not gay, and by lying by omission, she knows what she's doing isn't right. Even though she's just discovering she's bisexual, and could tell the truth about that and not have it ruin her disguise, she allows them to believe she is a gay man, and again, it's space that's not hers. It gets so much harder for her as time goes on, because she likes these guys, they trust her with their secrets, and she's lying to them.
This book is so diverse! Really, I love how diverse it is. Jordan is Chinese-American, and she's just discovering she's bisexual. Nihal is Sikh, Isaac is Japanese-American, one of the secondary characters is gay, and Jordan's dad is disabled. Class is a huge aspect of this story, too; Jordan is at Kensington-Blaine on a scholarship, and there's absolutely no-way she would be able to attend without it. As it is things are seriously tight, due to the expense of flights to and from the school and paying for textbooks, and so on. Jordan's family have always been poor, with her parents working such awkward hours that she barely saw them before she went to Kensington-Blaine, her father working nights, her mother working long hours - longer as Jordan got older. Her parents have skipped meals in the past, to make sure she got to eat. And not long ago, her father fell seriously ill, and his health insurance couldn't cover it, so they're trying to pay that off, as well as just trying to get by. When her mum loses her job, the family has to go on benefits. They are really, really struggling. So it's understandable that her parents are worried about her never getting any parts - what are they paying the money for the flights and textbooks for if Jordan never gets anything from the school?
Even though her family is poor and it's a huge worry, this is Jordan's normal. She doesn't know any different. And it's contrasted so well, when, during Thanksgiving break, the Sharpshooters go to Jon Cox's house. Jon Cox's family are extremely wealthy, and his house is pretty much a mansion. It's so unlike anything Jordan is accustomed to, the wealth that the house so obviously shows the Cox family has is shocking to her. Jon Cox is embarrassed by Jordan's jaw-dropping shock, but she thinks about how this - the big mansion, the shiny sports car, the designer clothes, the money coming out of his ears - is his normal. Jon Cox is aware that others don't have as much as him, though, and he's always offering to pay for things, like meals; he's generous with his wealth, though not in a charity way. And he's a nice guy, you know? The money doesn't make him feel he's above anyone else, it's just something he has. It's just a startling contrast to Jordan, seeing how different their lives are.
Noteworthy is just incredible. It has so much to say on so many different things, while still telling a story that feels true and important. It's such a gorgeous, gorgeous novel! With Noteworthy, Redgate has further secured her place as one of my favourite authors, and she has most definitely become an auto-buy author. Such a wonderful story!
Thank you to Amulet Books via NetGalley for the eProof.
Published: 2nd May 2017
Publisher: Amulet Books
Riley Redgate's Website
If you enjoyed this post, feel free to follow me on:
Bloglovin' | Twitter | Instagram