review: noteworthy | a cappella, girl disguises as boy, and boarding school greatness

noteworthyTitle: Noteworthy
Author: Riley Redgate
Genre: contemporary (YA)
Published in 2017 by Amulet Books
Rating: ★★★★.₅ – loved it

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 theater 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.

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When I picked this up, I was in need of a cute contemporary read after finishing some heart-wrenching and moving books. I wanted something lighter, a novel that would leave me happy by the end. If you’re ever in the mood for some contemporary YA, fluffy or not, I’d recommend Noteworthy

Noteworthy revolves around Chinese-American student Jordan Sun, who recently started her junior year in musical theater at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts. As the author is also Chinese-American, this is an #ownvoices novel in that regard. She’s just found out she didn’t get the lead in the upcoming show, and after confronting her teacher, discovers it’s because she is an Alto 2. Female leading roles in musicals tend to go to sopranos, after all. There’s nothing Jordan can really do about it, as it’s not a skill she can work on or improve. It’s simply her voice.

Then she receives an email that could change her life at school. The Sharpshooters, the most revered a cappella group on campus, have an open spot and are holding auditions. The only problem? They’re an all-male group. Jordan decides to dress up as a guy and audition anyway – and then gets stuck in an endless cycle of lies when she gets in.

To be honest, I liked everything about this book. The story was engaging, fun and light, yet thought-provoking. The pacing was pretty consistent, and I found myself reading huge chunks of the book in one go. I didn’t want to put it down at all. 

I’ve always loved the gender bending stories, and this one is no exception to that rule. I think it tackles to topic far better than most, as it delves into a discussion on sexuality and gender as well.

I’ll say it now: I absolutely loved Jordan. She’s such a fun main character. In fact, I would read more contemporary books if female leads were more like her. She was funny and witty at times, awkward at others. Sometimes she knew exactly what to say, other times she was lost for words. She got into the most ridiculous situations because of her lie, yet it never felt over the top. I related so much to her, even though we have pretty much nothing in common. I wish I could be her friend.

Honestly, I wish I could have been friends with all of the Sharpshooters. Their little found family is so fantastic and adorable, and I want to be part of it.

This is basically a brilliant and diverse version of the gender bending story we’ve all read before. Note that I said brilliant AND diverse. AND. The book is not brilliant simply because it is diverse. It’s an incredible book, and it’s incredibly diverse.  It’s a novel about teenagers with different religions, ethnicities, sexualities and so on, but it doesn’t focus solely on that aspect of their characters. It’s not a story about Jordan being Chinese-American or bisexual, even though she is. I also want to say that I loved the fact that one of the Sharpshooters is dyslexic. I feel like with regards to diversity, we don’t talk enough about disability representation.

What I loved most about this book is that it addresses gender identity and how it affects people differently. Jordan dresses, acts, and shows herself to the world as a guy, even though she doesn’t identify as male. She isn’t trans, but she finds herself in a situation a lot of trans people go through. She becomes Julian to be a part of the Sharpshooters and boost her level of experience – and possible save her future career. But she also realizes that for a lot of people, these things are not so frivolous. The trans community deals with things like secretly buying boys’ clothes and becoming someone “else” all the time, in a far more serious and often terrifying way. I say terrifying because unfortunately the world is full of pieces of shit who abuse trans people for being who they are. I like that the author addressed that this isn’t fun and games for everyone.

In the book, you see Jordan struggling with applying tips she finds on forums for trans people and people in drag to her life. She knows that she is borrowing from a community she doesn’t belong to, and it makes her feel like shit. Thank you, Riley Redgate, for including stuff like this in your book!


If it’s not obvious by now, I don’t know what to say. I absolutely loved this book. It’s a diverse, own voices novel with tropes I simply adore yet it isn’t afraid to address the real issues hiding behind those tropes either. If you want to read a contemporary YA novel, I’d recommend picking this up. Seriously. READ IT.


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25, reader, blogger, feminist, INFJ

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