Author: Riley Redgate
Artist: Maria T. Middleton, Alyssa Nassner
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release date: 5/2/2017
Rating: 4.5 stars
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. But 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.
It’s official: Riley Redgate is going on my “auto-buy” list after just two books. NOTEWORTHY is as fresh and current as SEVEN WAYS WE LIE was heavy and retrospective, with a perfect mix of humor, music, and the all-important character growth.
Desperate to appease her stereotypically Chinese parents in her final year at the most prestigious arts high school in America, our heroine Jordan – isolated after a break up, and having less than zero luck with auditions – decides on a “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” sort of plan, and becomes (temporarily) our hero, Julian. It’s important to note…ha, pun intended…that she’s only dressing the part; aside from one or two short passages in which she ponders what femininity has done for her (a tall, sturdy girl with a deeper voice), she’s confident in her existence as a cis woman, and doesn’t experience anything close to a crisis of gender identity.
Sexuality, on the other hand, is something Jordan starts to figure out in a more solid way once she 1. realizes she actually passes as a guy, and 2. begins to make friends within the Sharps (and even socialize as Julian outside of the group). The sweetest of these new platonic connections comes in the form of Nihal, a taciturn and lovely Sikh boy whose presence and reassurance I quickly grew to depend on, especially in those scenes with more angst and/or action.
I won’t spoil the name of the person Jordan ends up dating, but that character is a success as well – witty, soft, pretty, and flawed (as all good romantic interests should be, IMO).
However, my favorite part of this book is the inclusion of the effects of both poverty and wealth on a young life, and the clarity of Jordan’s eventual understanding that you can’t help which of those is your default. In chapter 6, she reflects on the chain of events that led to her father’s paralyzation and subsequent medical debt:
“Your family starts to fight. First, about money; next, about everything, because it becomes impossible to put energy into things that are not money. The stability you built up over the years has evaporated because of one germ that got ambitious.”
Bolding is mine because that line hit me right in the gut, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. In my experience, one of the hardest things about any type of sustained financial crisis is the domino action it can have on other aspects of your life, and I was really humbled and gratified that Ms. Redgate had noticed that too.
Then, in chapter 17, when a friend seems embarrassed by his ultra-ritzy home, Jordan sees firsthand that always having cash isn’t necessarily all that different than never having it:
“Maybe there was no right answer to being born filthy rich, like there was no right answer to being born dirt poor. Maybe everyone was just looking for reasons to think everyone else was ungrateful.”
Ding ding ding, we have perspective! And a protagonist with the ability to think critically and adapt! Does she make mistakes? Heck yes. Does she then rest on her mental/emotional laurels, content to repeat those errors in perpetuity? Heck no. Jordan’s journey from hardworking wallflower to (the illusion of a) suave preppy-boy a cappella star – and somewhat back again – is satisfying on more than one front, and I can’t wait to see what quirky fun this author gets up to in her next novel.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of NOTEWORTHY via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.