A cappella just got a makeover.
Jordan Sun is embarking on her junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts, hopeful that this will be her time: the year she finally gets cast in the school musical. But when her low Alto 2 voice gets her shut out for the third straight year—threatening her future at Kensington-Blaine and jeopardizing her college applications—she’s forced to consider nontraditional options.
In Jordan’s case, really nontraditional. 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.
Jordan finds herself enmeshed in a precarious juggling act: making friends, alienating friends, crushing on a guy, crushing on a girl, and navigating decades-old rivalries. With her secret growing heavier every day, Jordan pushes beyond gender norms to confront what it means to be a girl (and a guy) in a male-dominated society, and—most importantly—what it means to be herself.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Underage drinking
Booklist starred (March 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 13))
Grades 9-12. Noteworthy, by Riley Redgate (Seven Ways We Lie, 2016), features a girl who isn’t sure of anything at all. Jordan Sun is a junior at her performing-arts boarding school, but her low voice and Chinese features keep her from getting cast. Jordan’s on scholarship—her family struggles financially because of her disabled father’s medical bills—and her parents are overly invested in her success. So when she fails yet again to get cast, she considers other options. A spot has opened in the Sharpshooters, an elite all-male a cappella group. It’s college-application gold, so Jordan dresses up like a guy, borrows her cousin’s name, and auditions. Crazier still, she gets in. Jordan Sun, contralto, becomes Julian Zhang, tenor, living a double life as she’s drawn into the world of the Sharpshooters and into what it’s like to be a boy. In some ways, pretending helps her become more sure of her identity: she’s questioned her sexuality before, but as she spends more time as Julian, it becomes increasingly clear that she’s bisexual. Conversely, as she grows more comfortable acting like a guy, the surer she is that she’s not actually a transgender boy: “I knew it innately. The struggle to fit into some narrow window of femininity didn’t exclude me from the club.” It’s a smart critique of gender roles—male and female—in today’s society (a particularly notable scene is one in which Jordan, as Julian, is told in no uncertain terms to “man up” by a respected teacher), and it’s all delightfully wrapped up in a fun, compelling package of high-school rivalries, confusing romances, and a classic Shakespearean case of mistaken identity.
Kirkus Reviews starred (March 15, 2017)
Redgate deftly harmonizes a lighthearted plot with an exploration of privilege, identity, and personal agency. Jordan Sun is a Chinese-American high school junior from a working-poor family who feels a bit out of place at her prestigious, arts-focused boarding school in upstate New York. Though the school’s diversity policy is bringing in more students from minority backgrounds, most of her classmates are still wealthy and white. After continued rejection for roles in the theater department, Jordan decides to try her hand at something new and joins one of the school’s legendary a cappella groups: a traditionally all-male one. To audition, Jordan adopts the male persona of Julian, and when Julian is accepted to fill a tenor spot with the group, Jordan must slip into the role of her life. As a first-person narrator, Jordan is often dryly sarcastic, but it is her lyrical prose that brings depth and empathy to a story that could otherwise be another needless riff on the cross-dressing trope. “It’s too simple to hate the people who have doorways where you have walls,” she reflects. Wearing Julian’s identity causes Jordan to question her assumptions regarding femininity, masculinity, and sexuality. Jordan ultimately shatters her own self-limiting expectations and in doing so encourages readers to do likewise. A heart song for all readers who have ever felt like strangers in their own skins. (Fiction. 13-18)
About the Author
Riley Redgate speaks exclusively in third person, so this works nicely. She loves horror films, apocalyptic thunderstorms, and the Atonement soundtrack. When writing author bios, she feels as if she is crafting some weirdly formal Tinder profile.
She plans someday to start a melodramatically epic rock band named Millennial Filth. Until then, she writes acoustic singer-songwriter stuff, also novels.
Her website is rileyredgate.com.
Around the Web
Noteworthy on Amazon
Noteworthy on Goodreads
Noteworthy on JLG
Noteworthy Publisher Page