“It wasn’t enlightenment to live like you had no history and no consequences. The world wasn’t just made out of instants‒it was made out of plans, too, and the ability to learn from your mistakes”
I’m a huge fan of cute contemporary YA novels but I don’t pick them up very often. The sad thing is, most of them are targeted towards white middle-class allo cis-straight girls who I have some problems relating to. I’m neither white nor straight, plus I live outside the US making my life totally different from the ones usually projected in these books. Noteworthy changed that for me, in a way. While it was set in the US and in a private, elite academy, the characters felt so close to home that I couldn’t help but love this story.
Though there is discourse about femininity and masculinity and the fluidity of gender throughout the book, Jordan does not identify as man or as genderqueer. She clearly states that she identifies as a woman.
What I loved:
- The story was light without glossing over sensitive issues. There are mentions of issues about gender, sexuality, poverty, toxic hyper masculinity, misogyny, feminism and white supremacy throughout the entire book. It’s not very in your face but the author does go into them with a kind of subtle flair that keeps you aware and interested.
- Being inside Jordan’s head is fascinating. The inner monologues were plentiful but always interesting. I do feel like the action and the pace of the story got lost because of this so that’s why I docked half a star off my rating. Even though I enjoyed this constant stream of consciousness, I did get frustrated with the lack of plot movement.
- THE CHARACTERS! I love groups in books. Group dynamic are my weakness and Noteworthy delivered splendidly. Jordan is incredibly lovable and relatable and her interactions with the Sharpshooters gave me life. The boys are funny, charismatic and easy to distinguish. Sometimes big groups in books end up blurring together like white noise; this was not the case in this book, in my opinion. Isaac is a gem of a character; same with Trav, Mama, Jon, Marcus, Nihal and Erik. They’ll stay with me forever.
- This book is about Jordan’s coming of age and self-discovery, NOT ROMANCE. There are mentions of romance and there is a romantic subplot but it pales in comparison to the MC’s fantastic character development. Nothing is better than great character development. I found myself rooting so much for Jordan throughout their big journey. I wanted her to succeed so much.
- JULIAN. So throughout the book Jordan acts as a boy named Julian and “he” is who we get like 98% of the time. It even feels weird writing Jordan instead of Julian considering she was Julian most of the time. I love how the author handled it though because these two personas become a vital part of Jordan’s self-acceptance. Its this exploration of gender that solidifies her identities and giver her a boost in this world filled with labels.
- The theme also hooked me right from the start! Pitch Perfect meets She’s the Man? SIGN ME UP!!! Plus, it’s even better because its #ownvoices and diverse and from what I’ve read, the rep is good.
- I finished this book and I felt satisfied with the ending, even if it was a little rushed. I can see myself picking this up in a few years and giggling over Jordan’s mishaps all over again.
What initially drew me in to Noteworthy was that it was being called “Pitch Perfect meets She’s the Man”. The fact that it also had a bisexual Chinese American MC? Color me intrigued.
Jordan Mingyan Sun is our protagonist, and her narrative voice is sarcastic and refreshing. She says her mouth had a mind of its own, and we could see that from the very beginning. There were a lot of sassy and comical moments that happened directly because of Jordan’s lack of impulse control. I really liked Jordan, because I could understand her deep seated insecurities and fears in a way. Her situation is also very relatable to me, because she wasn’t the typical middle class straight white MC I’m used to seeing in YA. We see how different Jordan is from the rest of her classmates in regards to race, sexuality, and economic situations. Jordan herself talks about these disparities in a way that rang true to me.
This book is very character driven. We meet The Sharpshooters, this group of 7 guys who all have different backgrounds and personalities. They were all developed exceptionally well, and I can see myself reading companion books or novellas about them because I felt like they all in their own ways stole the spotlight whenever they were on the page. All the character interactions in this book were so cute. I loved how Jordan slowly felt herself opening up to the group because I could really see the evolution from strangers to an almost family dynamic.
I also really liked that this was more about Jordan’s journey to figuring out who she was and what she wanted. There was very little romance and it doesn’t overshadow the plot at all, but when it was there it was really adorable.
The diversity here is also really intersectional. Jordan is bisexual and Chinese, but there’s also Japanese, queer, Sikh, Indian, learning disabilities, and underrepresented body type representation in the book.
I want to make it very clear that while Jordan cross-dresses and poses as a boy to get into the acapella group, she definitely is not genderqueer or non-binary. Jordan throughout the book questions her decision to cross-dress and why she enjoyed her “male” side more than her actual self.
“What did it say that I’d gotten so addicted to my male disguise? If girlhood felt frustrating, and boyhood felt freeing, did that say more about girlhood, boyhood, or me?”
However I did find a couple of problematic things about this book. Jordan’s decision to crossdress as a cis girl, is deeply problematic, because at the end of the day she’s appropriating trans struggles without the risk that actual trans people face. There’s a scene were Jordan’s berating herself for this very thing, and she mentions how bad she feels, which I appreciated. However, there’s also the issue that there weren’t any trans characters in the book at all, which seemed like a wasted opportunity where there could have been nuanced discussion about why Jordan’s actions were wrong. Another thing that irked me about this book was this particular scene where one of the members of the Sharpshooters thinks Julian (as Jordan’s known to the boys) is gay, and then proceeds to tell the whole group. While Jordan isn’t a gay boy, it was still too close to having a character outed for my taste.
I also think the book suffered a bit in terms of pacing. It took me a while to really invest in the story because I felt like I was waiting for something to happen. I wanted to see more of Jordan switching between being Julian and herself. I wanted to see more of how she managed to fool everyone while still staying true to herself. I also wanted the ending to be more developed. The whole book is pretty slow burn and introspective, but the ending felt a bit rushed for my taste.
(If you want to know more about the problematic trans rep, here’s an own voices review that talks more about the issues)
Overall, I really did enjoy the book. There were a lot of cute and adorable moments with the whole cast, as well as honest discussions about poverty, femininity, misogyny, and more. However, had there been better pacing and more nuanced gender discussions, the book would have been much better.