One of my favorite things about YA books is the way some are able to delicately lay out a romance in all its complexity. Some of my favorites are novels that teeter on the brink of romance, where one little look or a joke between two characters that just seems to make them click or the one extra description of a character that tips you off that the other character is interested in them.
This is the kind of love I fell in love with in Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and one that I was totally swept away by in Riley Redgate’s sophomore novel Noteworthy.
It follows Jordan, a high school theater geek, as she pretends to be a boy to join a prestigious all-male acapella group, the Sharpshooters, to better her chances of a successful future.
Though she comes in with preconceived notions of the Sharps—namely their privilege because of their status as white men—she quickly learns more of the complexities of the group. Some are struggling with their identity as non-white in a mostly-white group (and school), others are struggling with body image issues, and others are struggling with their sexualities and destructive notions of “maning up.”
She is able to discover aspects of herself that she otherwise would have not been able to, since so much of her earlier high school experience was defined by her boyfriend who broke up with her. As she finds a new group of friends and explores her new freedom, she confronts issues of gender identity, sexuality, and socio-economic struggles.
One of my favorite things about this book was the way that the two characters grew closer to one another as they each individually grew. She confronts these issues head-on with Isaac, and the two speak openly and listen to one another.
The first is when Jordan discovers that she is bi. At this point, Isaac has discovered the
secret that she is a girl, and when he asks her why she kissed another girl, Jordan confesses that it was in that moment that she realized she might be bi. He asks her how she couldn’t know about a thing like that, and she says that her previous relationship didn’t allow her much room for self-discovery. At no point does Isaac make her feel bad about this—both her being bi or her self-discovery of it. He gives her space to openly and honestly express these feelings.
The other scene that really sparked my interested was when they were discussing their economic privilege. Jordan is struggling financially, and Isaac expresses that he wishes he could fix it—since he comes from a relatively privileged family—and in many other novels, Isaac would sweep in and save the day with his bags of money. But here, Jordan explains that this is just her life and that there’s no simple solution to this. It was a very tender and honest scene, and it gave me goosebumps.
There were so many incredible things about this book, but the nuance, especially in the romantic relationships, was one of the most refreshing elements. It honestly was a really beautiful display of a healthy relationship, and that’s always so exciting to read.
It was just a kind and supportive relationship that was not overly-pressured to be sexual
or traditionally romantic or anything besides what it was. It was just two people who felt nice around each other and wanted to spend more time together.
It is the kind of beautiful relationship that should be in more YA novels and should be more widely lauded, and I’m so excited that Redgate was able to include it as such a major—music pun intended—part of the novel.