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.
Then the school gets a mass email: A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshipped … 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.
She’s the Man meets Pitch Perfect with actual diverse rep. This was such good fun to read – the relationships between the boys, the pranks and rivalries between all-male a capella groups, this is a perfect nostalgia for everything that was great – and hard! – about my uni days. Noteworthy bridged the gap between mine and my brother’s interests – I can’t remember the last time we actually talked about a book together.
Jordan Sun is a poor bisexual daughter of Chinese immigrants in the USA, so Noteworthy comes with a healthy dose of reality. Kensington is about as liberal as you’d expect a performing arts school to be, but it’s still clinging to its days of elitism and gender exclusivity, and whether Jordan is dressed as a boy or a girl she encounters reminders of that everywhere. But times are changing, and this book welcomes it. There’s some good old a capella contests, music jokes and friendships that stabbed me in the heart, but there is also time given over to considering the consequences of the financial inequality within the group, race and class issues, family troubles and gender roles.
This is not a book about a transgender transition, but when Jordan realises that she’s adopting techniques used by transgender people, she takes it seriously. Though at several points she might have tried to cover up her lie by claiming to be trans, she never does (here is a link to Shenwei’s review of Noteworthy for a more qualified opinion on this topic. You should also read it because it’s a great and very well written review). Her realisation that she is bisexual during the book comes with its own set of assumptions to deal with. And despite her desperation to win the a capella competition, and so prove to her parents that her pursuit of the arts is worthwhile, she risks her position to confront the Sharps in their rare moments of sexist or otherwise inappropriate language. And she’s articulate doing it. There are several lines which I would love to memorise in order to dish out at prime moments.
Noteworthy reminded me of exactly why I loved university. The freedom of expression, the reassuring educational environment combined with rapidly looming adult life, the independence and the important choices that happen during those years. It stands as a challenge to educational institutions, to do better for all their students, and it stands as a celebration of the Jordan’s determination to not let musical (and mundane) prejudice stand in the way of her performance dreams.
The Sharps are not majority white by much, there are mentions of trans students, and there is a secondary character m/m romance. Clear awareness of minority issues, poor MC who doesn’t just magically produce money from thin air when she really, really needs it.