Thank you Amulet for the review copy!
Not only does this story grip you from first page (actually, I was gripped from the blurb but totally sold by the first line), but Noteworthy also explores intricacies of the current day that should be, and are, discussed. Ranging from the inherent sexism that may come from male a capella groups to the exploration of sexuality and gender – and how the main character Jordan ultimately identifies as – Noteworthy composes a sonorous story that leaves readers thinking, pondering, and eventually in love with.
I know I myself could immediately identify with Jordan, a Chinese theater-focused student in a prestigious musical academy on a merit scholarship. From the beginning, we see her on her third year of not being casted on a school production. But Jordan can’t afford not to do well, especially, when she thinks about how her parents would react. After all, she has to stay the best of the best for this scholarship and to even get the “ok” from her parents to go to the boarding school. Jordan’s quick wit – which is clearly evident throughout the story – and creative thinking finds her another solution to success: the Sharpshooters, an all-male a capella group that is revered in the school.
“‘You’ve got a unique sound, Jordan; you don’t hear many voices like yours, and I mean that genuinely. But musical theater will be a tough pursuit for a girl who’s more comfortable singing the G below middle C than the one above.’”
So obviously there’s a problem: she’s not a boy. But this can easily be fixed with hair-snipping, changing miniscule actions, and adjusting her voice again. It helps that Jordan has always been sort of a loner, and keeps her friends pretty far. There was this one instance, with an ex-boyfriend, where she really had companionship. But after a falling-out, Jordan has been really sticking to herself. She’s super independent and really chases after what she wants. This tenacity leads her to auditioning for the tenor voice for the Sharpshooters, and also – surprisingly – finding perhaps a place to belong over there.
I like the discussion the author adds to the story. First of all, Jordan goes on websites to help her bind her chest for a more authentic crossdressing experience and stumbles on a blog for transgenders. She asks herself – “Am I infringing on what they’re doing?”, especially as she realizes she’s basically lying to the people around her. This also leads her to thinking about her own gender identity. Although the Jordan before crossdressing for the Sharpshooters was not the best she could be, she also starts finding herself with the rest of the a capella group, especially as it’s a place where she can make new dares and discoveries. Goodbye Jordan, hello Julian (the name she uses with the Sharpshooters).
The Sharpshooters were all incredibly written, with idiosyncrasies and characterizations that honestly just allow them to leap off the pages of the book. From Nahil’s calm and sometimes disinterested tone of voice to Trav’s immaculate rehearsal-leading and serious attitude to Mama’s gentle kindness and sweet love of Hadyn, each boy in the group have personalities that I’m happy to say are readily explored in the story. I loved seeing Jordan fit into a role there, and her interactions with the boys. Whether it’s going against the other boys’ a capella group, the Minuets, or dealing with disruption between members of the Sharpshooters themselves, Jordan’s experience allows her own character to bloom into someone who is confident, unafraid, and accepted.
“Nothing is so startling, so awakening, as when someone looks at you and you know they see you. Not just what you’ve polished to smoothness and perfection but the jagged edges, the rough patches, and the uncertain tangles in your center. All of you.”
This has also been one of the first contemporaries I’ve read where a character with a scholarship, and comes from a poor background, actually faces conflict because of it. Because of the school budget, Jordan also has to face the burden of possibly not returning for the next semester of her junior year because of the rescinding of her scholarship. Redgate tackles this with as much precision and detail to reality as she does the other concepts of the story, making it another fully-explored facet to the story.
There is also a cute romance inserted that is quite subtle and quite slow to develop. Jordan is bisexual, and this is an aspect of herself that she explores as well in the book. Does she like kissing girls? Yes. Does she like kissing boys? Yes. Does that affect her person, no matter if it’s Jordan or Julian? Absolutely not. Although it’s slow, there are snippets of swoony parts with the love interest who is just – argh – so sweet and energetic and kind. I’m leaving the love interest unnamed because seeing their developing feelings in the latter half of the book was so extremely fun and giggly! Seriously, you will love the gradual build-up.
Noteworthy presents a story of acceptance, both of a girl towards herself and the people around her. Jordan had a really down-to-earth, totally relatable and hilarious voice (sometimes super funky but I LOVED IT). She’s creative and bright and smart, but also has her own insecurities and doubts. The extremely satisfying ending will just make your heart freaking full of light and love and all the fuzzies. I’m in love with each of the boys in the Sharpshooters, and they must be protected at all costs.
I also have a US-only giveaway for an ARC of this book, which you can enter here.
Here’s a Twitter aesthetic of the book as well:
I even drew fan art of the Sharpshooters!