Thursday, May 14, 2020

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

Since a lot of the libraries and book shops are closed right now, some of my IRL reader pals and I have been leaving bags of books on each other's doorsteps. This book was in my bag, and it's funny, because I had the opportunity to get an ARC of this when it first came out and I passed it up, because I thought it might be too twee-- but more fool I, because this book was awesome. Thank goodness for all of the positive reviews out there convincing me that this book was, in fact, my cup of tea.

Set in a boarding school that's basically the teen equivalent of Julliard, Jordan is a theater student who wants desperately to be part of a singing group, but her low voice makes her a hard one to place in the female choirs. So one day, she gets the wicked idea to dress up in drag and try out for the boys' group instead: the Sharpshooters. She gets in and to her surprise, immediately develops a sense of camaraderie with Isaac, Nihal, Jon, "Mama," Trav, and the rest, even though she was in it to compete.

She also comes to terms with her latent bisexuality, which she repressed while in a relationship with an insecure idiot of a boy who thought this meant that he had more "competition," and also questions what it means to be a girl, as well as a boy, and how empowering it feels to break gender norms. There's also a lot of talk about privilege: about being cisgendered and cross-dressing, but also about poverty and what that means and how it can limit opportunities that others may take for granted, and how frustrating living in a machismo society is.

More than that, though, this book is just fun. I was in music for ten years, and part of what made it so fun were the competitions and closeness, and having a skill that more often than not had all of the secret fun of an inside joke that nobody who didn't play an instrument would get. The boarding school setting is also really fun in that it adds a tight, remote setting that feels isolated and allows you to focus more on the characters without getting distracted by the scenery, which makes it that much more daunting when a rival group, the Minuets, starts fucking with them to psych them out.

I think anyone who enjoys smartly written young adult novels will like those book. The heroine is bisexual and Chinese, and there are other characters who are either PoCs or LGBT+, as well (but I don't want to say who because it's a bit of a spoiler). There's an "Asian drama" vibe about this book, I think because gender-bending is such a key trope in those shows (I'm thinking specifically of Coffee Prince), but a lot of gender-bending books can come across as accidentally transphobic or contribute to bisexual erasure (especially when the guy is like "oh noes! I'm attracted to a boy??? JK, it was a girl! My masculinity senses knew this all along." This book addresses both of those narrative holes in quite a satisfactory way, I thought. I would definitely read more by this author.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

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