To be honest, while the synopsis made the book sound like exactly my kind of thing, I still hesitated on this title because of the cover. It’s just… not pretty, or interesting. But in the end the promise of a capella and genderbending and queer poc characters won over, and I requested a copy. I am so glad I did.
The protagonist of Noteworthy is Jordan Sun, a Chinese-American girl on scholarship at a performing arts boarding school, which would have been perfect except for the fact that she always got shut out from school musicals due to her low voice. Desperate, girl!Jordan Sun decided to become boy!Julian Sun, and audition for the Sharpshooters, her school’s elite all-boys a capella group.
I’ve always enjoyed the whole Girl Pretends To Be Boy trope, thanks to all the times I’ve read As You Like It and Twelfth Night. In fact, I went into Noteworthy thinking that it would be like that modern adaptation of Twelfth Night, She’s The Man. That Jordan would mainly be juggling between her old and new friends, and that there would be funny, unrealistic situations due to mistaken identity. I had heard that she crushes on a girl while pretending to be a boy, and I thought that, at least, was new. It turns out that it isn’t the only new thing.
Before Jordan made her decision to join the Sharpshooters, she had been in what she thought was a serious relationship. She had become one of those girls who forgot their girlfriends the moment they got a boyfriend. And then her boyfriend, who was a senior, graduated. So at the beginning of this story, Jordan was mostly alone, still friendly with but no longer close to her friends. And pretending to be Julian wasn’t just something she could shake off at the end of the story once she got her inevitable happy ending. She learned things that changed her for life – how differently girls and boys were treated; how she liked girls as well as guys; how her crossdressing might be offensive to the trans students at her school, as she was a cis female; how the Sharpshooters were all interesting, real people that were beginning to feel like family, and through them, she learned to be a better friend.
This is a crossdressing book that really discusses the implications of Jordan’s choice, and I appreciate that very much.
Oh, and amidst the commentary on gender and sexuality and privilege/wealth and issues like the US healthcare system, this book balances everything out perfectly. This is because Jordan is hilarious, and I seriously love the Sharpshooters’ camaraderie. (It made me think about how I hardly see teenage boys have real, meaningful friendships in my YA fiction. There should be more of this. Point me out to some good books, please.) And while Jordan does find romance, it’s not the focus of the book (yay!) and I preferred reading about the friendship she forges with Nihal, a Sikh visual arts student in their group.
Overall, this was an amazing read, and is one of the best contemporary YAs I’ve read this year.
Some of my favourite bits:
“You didn’t want to assume a guy was into you, but you had to have a plan lined up just in case, because what if he sprang feelings on you out of nowhere in a guerrilla attack and you were unprepared to deflect them in a tactful way? Also, it made a shitty foundation for a friendship, the constant worry that someone would stop caring about you overnight if you didn’t want to date them. It was all very stressful.”
“There was something alienating about being on scholarship, a tense mixture of gratefulness and otherness. You’re talented, the money said, and we want you here. Still, it had the twang of you were, are, and always will be different.”
“He wasn’t about to patch my doubts and make me whole; he wasn’t going to be my cornerstone; he wasn’t the blanket stretched taut to catch me when I fell. He was this nervous kid, playing with matches and dancing around gasoline, and I was this nervous kid, shying back from the firelight, and we were here nervous together, acting like we had it figured out – as if we hadn’t already learned what it looked like to see each other pretending.”
“I liked the invisibility of being a boy, inhabiting a bigger and broader space. I was feeling less apologetic about it by the day.”
…I can go on and on, really.
Disclaimer: I received a free reading copy from PIM through work; thank you, Chris!