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Note Worthy

May 28, 2017

Riley Redgate, the Kenyon student who published her first YA novel last spring, has already published a second one, Note Worthy, and it’s interesting and well-written. I didn’t find it all that compelling, but I’m not the intended audience for this kind of book and no longer have teenagers to bring home to me the ups and downs of adolescence.

Then I heard about the disappointment of my youngest niece when she didn’t get into a madrigal group she’d auditioned for, and remembered Walker’s disappointment when he didn’t get into an a capella group during his first year at Oberlin (to make it even more disappointing he got a callback but didn’t make the group because his voice didn’t blend as well as others’).

So I sent my niece a copy of Note Worthy, and will tell all of you who have ever been disappointed in the results of a singing audition to read it, because it’s got a great premise: a tall girl with a great low alto voice doesn’t get cast in the school musical at her high school for the performing arts, so she tries out as a high tenor for an all-male a capella group and makes it. Then she spends a year singing to her heart’s content, making lifelong friends, and living as a boy.

There are some great comments in the novel about being poor and female and what it’s like to try to get into a selective college (like Kenyon).

One of the reasons the tall girl–whose name is Jordan but who goes by “Julian” as a boy—tries out for the all-male group is that she thinks:
“It was downright depressing, the lengths it took to feel special when you wrote yourself out on paper. All As? Who cared? That was the standard here. Some shows, some activities? Big deal. How were you changing the world?
Sometimes, when I wasn’t too busy, I wondered why we had to change the world so early.”

The sections about being poor provide a perspective many of the young adults who will read this novel haven’t experienced:
“Here’s what can happen at the crossroads of being poor, disabled, and sick, a road that’s about as pleasant to travel as I-80 during rush hour. Let’s say, as a totally hypothetical example, you’re a paraplegic dad in San Francisco who works a checkout job, enabling your daughter’s flights out to a fancy boarding school in New England. One particular month, let’s say July, you get a nasty cough, but you need the hours, so you work through it. The couch evolves into a chilling fever. You soldier, on, determined to support your family. But when that cough starts turning up blood and rattling sounds, and a fist of pressure builds in your chest, and one day you can no longer breathe without choking, you land in the emergency room with a tube draining a thick packet of fluid out of your left lung and an $18,000 medical bill accumulated before you’re conscious again.
You don’t have the money. Not even close. To date, your family has mustered up $3,500 of savings. Actually, you find yourself wishing you’d saved less, because past a $3,000 threshold, your disability benefits evaporate and along with them, your health insurance.
Your wife thinks that this must be a mistake—that policy can’t work like this—but it does. Now, without insurance, you somehow need to come up with the difference. $14,500 that the three of you have no way to pay.”

Comments about being female in this novel mostly show how constricting it can be. Jordan says “I liked the invisibility of being a boy, inhabiting a bigger and broader space.” She finds more opportunities to do what she’s good at, too:
“Lately, I’d been eyeing the male roles in The Greek Monologue and Character and Humanity with envy….The parts girls workshopped in classes were usually filled with flirting, swooning, seducing, or heartbreak, only one of which I’d ever been any good at. I found myself wishing I could switch into being Julian. He could dig into some of those guys’ roles, powerful or stubborn men, stoic or genius men, authoritative men—parts I would’ve loved to play for wish fulfillment, if nothing else.”

As the school year goes on, Julian discovers more of how it feels to perform more aspects of masculinity, and the complications of expectation and desire. At one point she feels
“the same twinge I’d felt when I’d come across the trans resource website. I’d slipped beneath another mantle that wasn’t mine—as if I could understand what being a gay guy was like. All I understood about sexuality was its uncertainty, discovering your way through yourself day by day, stepping tentatively, hitting on some term that seemed to fit and hoping it stuck.”

Before the end of the year, Julian is told to “man up,” and she does. We’ve all had to do that at one time or another, I think, so if you’ve had to recently, especially as a singer, read this book for some of that “misery loves company” consolation and perspective.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 29, 2017 8:51 pm

    Oh, interesting premise, and I naturally am on board with the choice of “Julian” as a name. 😀

    • May 30, 2017 4:50 pm

      Should I know why you are a fan of the name Julian? Have I forgotten? Is this an important fact about you?

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