Jordan Sun is a theatre girl who’s low range makes it virtually impossible for her to land a role in her school’s productions. Solution? Cross-dress as a man, join an acapella group, and challenge the ways of the school.
Noteworthy is a contemporary novel that takes a couple of cliche ideas (girl dressing as a guy, acapella competitions, etc.) and brings them up in a new way. The story creeps its way through regular high school drama with some slightly less regular high school drama, but the captivating part of it is the characters—charming, diverse, and memorable. Despite all of this, though, the story disappoints in the realm of diversity, rushes the ending, and plays into a few too many tropes.
Long Review: May Contain Spoilers
Noteworthy isn’t a book about plot, but a book about the journey. The characters are captivating, unique, funny, and quirky, and you’ll find it hard not to love them. Even Jordan, the main protagonist, manages to avoid being that empty narrative voice that a lot of protagonists fill in YA novels. She’s awkward and funny, dedicated and passionate, and her navigation of the world makes everything colorful and bright.
The characters are diverse from POC, to several queer characters, to a boy with dyslexia who’s not at all shamed for it, to a main protagonist dealing with poverty and a disabled parent. The diversity is colorful and stretches into realms often overlooked. It’s #ownvoices on Chinese rep, and I loved both the portrayal of Jordan (Chinese) and Isaac (Japanese).
It’s slow. Very slow. There are points when you wonder if there’s any point at all. The story follows a girl at a private arts school. Their biggest concerns tend to be college, grades, and auditions. Not very exciting.
The story also struggles a bit with pacing. It can be hard to follow how much time is elapsing, there are moments that should have been drawn out and so many moments that could have been condensed. Particularly the ending felt too clean and too rushed—one of those moments where everything’s tumultuous until the last ten pages where everything just suddenly works out.
The story brings in the idea of cross-dressing as appropriating transness. I thought this was a very important element to address. Unfortunately, it’s addressed for about a paragraph in which we’re bombarded with Jordan’s cis guilt over it and then never addressed again. There are no trans or non-binary characters and just about every character exhibits some elements of internalized transphobia. For instance, Jordan is instantly worried about showering around the guys because, if they see her naked, they’ll know she’s a girl. Despite bringing up transness in a nod at the beginning, Jordan doesn’t even consider the fact that seeing her naked could just mean that she’s trans. When the characters do find out that she’s a girl, their first thought is that she’s trans, which makes them visibly uncomfortable, and then angry once they realize she’s just been lying to them. This isn’t addressed.
On top of not having any nonbinary or trans voices in a story about an issue of trans appropriation and despite the cis guilt nonbinary readers have to sludge through, we also have the issue of the three queer characters. Three is a pretty good number in a YA book, but two of them fall into unfortunate tropes: the gay best friend whose life basically sucks and gets an unhappy ending, and the “repressed gay” who is an asshole and hurts everyone around him because he’s repressed. The only example of good queer representation in the novel is Jordan who is openly bi, and while I appreciate the use of the term “bi”, I do feel that the exploration of her sexuality was a bit lazy and under-explored given all the opportunity for it.
Finally, there’s the issue of heteronormativity. As a boy, Jordan is given two potential love interests. Her relationship with the boy love interest is well explored and intimate. Her relationship with the girl love interest is surface and almost entirely physical. When the girl finds out she’s a girl, she loses interest. The boy doesn’t express interest until he learns that she’s a girl. There’s just a huge amount of missed opportunity here and by giving the male/female ship so much more depth and exploration than the female/female one, I think Redgate really missed the mark on strong bi rep.
All in all, the characters of this story were great, but there were just so many weaknesses, particularly in representation, that really kept this novel from reaching it’s full potential.